Olympic track shake-up – what will it mean?

A shake-up of the Olympic track programme will mean an equal number of medals on offer to men and women in London 2012 – but it is likely to come at the expense of the individual pursuit, points race and Madison competitions.

The inequality of medals on offer to male and female competitors in the velodrome – with seven medals for the men to aim for and just three for the women – has looked incongruous and parity is long overdue.

But the proposed changes will be controversial, especially after the exclusion of the popular, accessible kilometre and 500-metre time trial events for the Beijing Games last summer.

The proposal the UCI is likely to put to the IOC [International Olympic Committee] will mean five events for men and five for women.

The addition of team sprint and Keirin races for women would give Victoria Pendleton the chance to aim for three titles, as her compatriot Sir Chris Hoy achieved in Beijing last summer.

It looks likely the women’s team pursuit will be added, which is also good news for Great Britain, as they are world champions.

But the price to pay is losing the individual pursuits, won by Bradley Wiggins and Rebecca Romero in Beijing, as well as the Madison, which has no women’s equivalent, and the points races.

In their place will come the omnium, if proposals are rubber-stamped, an event that has been described as ideal for the jack-of-all-trades type rider. Many nations have used it as a development event for younger riders at the World Championships in the past couple of years, so it will be interesting to see how seriously it is taken next season.

A decision on the track cycling programme for the 2012 Olympics will be announced in mid-December.

>> Subscribe to Cycling Weekly this Autumn and save 35%. Enjoy the luxury of home delivery and never miss an issue <<

Men – 7 events
Sprint – Chris Hoy (Great Britain)
Team sprint – Great Britain
Keirin – Chris Hoy (Great Britain)
Individual pursuit – Bradley Wiggins (Great Britain)
Team pursuit – Great Britain
Points race – Joan Llaneras (Spain)
Madison – Juan Esteban Curuchet & Walter Fernando Perez (Argentina)

Women – 3 events
Sprint – Victoria Pendleton (Great Britain)
Individual pursuit – Rebecca Romero (Great Britain)
Points race – Marianne Vos (Netherlands)

Proposed Olympic Games track programme

Men – 5 events
Team sprint
Team pursuit

Women – 5 events
Team sprint
Team pursuit

To be dropped?
Men’s individual pursuit
Women’s individual pursuit
Men’s points race
Women’s points race
Men’s Madison

Why the need to change?
The inequality between events for men and women reflects badly on cycling. The IOC, the UCI and many of the competing nations want parity.

Many people ask why events have to be cut. Why not just add the other two women’s sprint events and a team pursuit for women and leave the individual pursuits as part of the programme? Extend the cycling track programme to six or seven days if necessary? After all, there are more than 40 medals on offer in the swimming pool, now there will be just 10 in the velodrome.

The Olympic programme is dictated partly by time, but mostly by athlete numbers. The Olympic village is only so big and the infrastructure can cope with only so many athletes and support staff. In swimming, many of the competitors take part in five, six or more different races, whereas the cycling events are more specific.

What is the Omnium?
The omnium consists of five events – a 200m flying time trial, a points race, a scratch race, an individual pursuit and a time trial (1km for men, 500m for women).

Each separate event would be held on one of the five days of track competition at the London Olympics.

The event favours the all-rounders who can sprint but also handle the endurance events. In track and field terms it is similar to the heptathlon or decathlon.

Including the omnium would mean that the individual pursuit and points race events would maintain a presence at the Olympics, albeit not as stand-alone competitions.