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Tokyo Olympics: What is the Madison?

Women's Madison at the Track World Championships 2020
Women's Madison at the Track World Championships 2020 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Captivating is the word that best describes the Madison and it makes its inaugural appearance for women at the Tokyo Olympic Games while for the men the race returns after being dropped the past two Olympiads. 

Dating back more than 125 years, the Madison was named for the venue at which the discipline originated, Madison Square Garden in New York. It was included in the Olympic Games only three times, between 2000 to 2008, but was offered only for men. 

Many countries look to pair an endurance or time trial specialist with a true sprinter, creating a team strategy to gain a lap on the field for maximum points. The UCI has included the men’s Madison at the Track World Championships since 1995, while the women have competed for the rainbow jersey since 2016.

A winning Madison team is determined with points rather than time, but the Australian pair of Leigh Howard and Sam Welsford recorded the fastest average speed of a modern Madison race at 59.921 kph at the second round of a World Cup event in Glasgow in November 2019.

Olympic Games Madison Gold Medals
Date CountryMadison Pair
2000 Rio de JaneiroAustraliaScott McGrory/Brett Aitken
2004 AthensAustraliaGraeme Brown/Stuart O'Grady
2008 BejingArgentinaJuan Esteban Curuchet/Walter Fernando Pérez

Basics of the Madison

Points are earned for two-person teams in intermediate sprints throughout the race, signalled with a whistle blown with one lap to go, as well as for lapping the rest of the field, resulting in the team with the most points being determined as the winner. However, for teams that are lapped by the entire field, points are deducted. 

Sound simple? Well, amassing the points takes a choreographed sequence of relay passes between teammates – 200 laps (50 kilometres) for men and 120 laps (30 kilometres) for women. There will be 16 two-person teams on the 250-metre track at the Izu Velodrome in each race. It’s a whirl of orchestrated chaos making it a fan favourite. 

Each rider takes a turn being “active” on the track. The “inactive” rider coasts at a slower pace on the upper bank of the track until a relay swap is made. Typically, this exciting sling-shot movement is created by teammates gripping hands and then catapulting one another forward into action. This exchange can happen anywhere on the track and as often as they want.

Netherlands Jan Willem Van Schip and Netherlands Yoeri Havik hand over during the mens 50km Madison final at the UCI track cycling World Championship at the velodrome in Berlin on March 1 2020 Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ AFP Photo by TOBIAS SCHWARZAFP via Getty Images

The men's Madison final at the Track World Championships in 2020 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)


The first world title for women in the Madison went to Belgium’s time-triallist and road all-rounder Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing) hand-slinging sprinter Jolien D’hoore (SD Worx) to the top position in 2016, and they repeated with the crown in 2017.

The Netherlands took back-to-back golds at the 2019 and 2020 Worlds, with Kirsten Wild (Ceratizit–WNT Pro Cycling) and Amy Pieters (SD Worx), who had been runners-up to the Great Britain squad of track specialist Katie Archibald and Emily Nelson in 2018.

Wild and Pieters are expected to deliver a medal as the leading Dutch duo as the reigning world champions. Wild competed in the Omnium at the 2012 and 2016 Games, and at the 2012 Games was part of the Team Pursuit squad with Pieters.

The veteran Belgian duo was fourth at Worlds last year, but brings lots of experience to Tokyo, led by D’hoore, who competes in her third Olympic Games and will retire from cycling at the end of the year. Kopecky was fourth on Sunday in the Olympic road race.

The British team is always in the mix, with Archibald expected to race with Laura Kenny, both making third trips to the Olympics. Archibald was part of the four-rider British squad that set the world record in the team pursuit at the 2016 Rio Games. Kenny is Great Britain’s most successful female Olympian, who has four golds from the 2012 and 2016 Games in the Team Pursuit and Omnium.

Denmark is the reigning world champion in this event for the men, which as the only team to lap the field in the finals at the Berlin Worlds last year. The same dynamic duo comes to Tokyo – sprinter Michael Mørkøv (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and time triallist Lasse Norman Hansen (Qhubeka NextHash). Mørkøv also won the 2009 UCI World Championships with Alex Rasmussen, another strong time trialist.

New Zealand, with Campbell Stewart and Aaron Gate, took the silver medal by just one point in the 2020 Worlds over Germany's two-time Madison World Champion pair of Roger Kluge and Theo Reinhardt. The Kiwi pairing for Tokyo was still to be confirmed, with Corbin Strong in the mix with Stewart and Gate, a three-time Olympian. For Germany, Reinhardt, a two-time Olympian, will team again with Kluge, a three-time Olympian and lead-out rider in the sprints for Lotto Soudal, who seems to have recovered from a crash on stage 13 that caused him to abandon the three-week stage race. 

Look out for Australia though, as the pairing of Leigh Howard and Sam Welsford, provided the fastest average speed of a modern Madison race at 59.921 kph in 2019 at a world cup race.


Madison takes centre stage as two of the 12 medal events for track cycling at the Izu Velodrome on August 6 and 7. The women’s medal contest will be held on August 6, with the men’s medal match held on August 7.

Find all the details of when the events will be on in your time zone in our Tokyo Olympic Games cycling schedule.


Individual men who have won the most Madison world championships with a team are Spain’s Joan Llaneras (1997, 1999, 2006) and Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish  (2005, 2008, 2016). 

In 2019, Germany was the only men’s team to lap the field at the Worlds and amassed 105 points to win the world title, an unofficial record. The highest points total for a women’s team at Worlds was set by Great Britain in 2018 with 50 points.

The women make history this year as the first Madison contest in Olympic Games history. The last time medals were awarded to men in the Olympic event was at the 2008 Bejing Games, where Argentina  (Juan Esteban Curuchet/Walter Fernando Pérez) defeated Spain (Juan Llaneras/Antonio Tauler) by one point.

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Jackie Tyson
Jackie Tyson

Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp. She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times (not fast). Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in Provence (France), and some mtb rides in Park City, Utah (USA).