Track sprint: How the Tokyo 2020 Olympic track sprint works

The need to know about the sprint competition at the Olympic Games

The women's track sprint at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The track sprint (match sprint or just sprint) is a regular event at the Olympic Games and will feature again for men and women at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The sprint has been in the Games in every edition aside from 1904 for the men, with women competing since 1988.

Here's what you need to know about the sprint at the Olympic Games.

Olympic cycling: Track sprint

The principle of the track sprint is clinically simple – two riders race off over three laps to see who is fastest.

In practice, the riders take part in what can seem a bizarre stalemate, watching each other carefully and waiting for the other to make the first move – until the sprint bursts into life in the closing stages.

In the early stages of the event riders will often move up to the top of the track to try and force the other into the lead (and gain an aerodynamic advantage behind when the sprint starts), even coming to a complete stop in a track stand.

The race commissaire will warn the riders if they hold the track stand for too long, at which point they will begin rolling again (albeit usually quite slowly).

The race will then kick-off, usually in the last lap, when one of the riders begins making their charge for the line. The leading rider will often accelerate first to try and gap the chasing rider. The rider in second wheel will have an aerodynamic advantage and will try to come round the leading rider in the final bend or straight. The leading rider however can hug the tightest inside line on the track to create the shortest distance, or can move further up to force their opponent wider (and therefore a further distance around the track).

The Olympics kick off with a 200m flying lap to establish qualifying times. The 18 fastest riders take part in the 1/16 finals, pairing off with the fastest against the slowest. Winners progress, while losers get the chance to compete in repechage rounds, until eventually eight riders remain for the best-of-three quarter finals.

The semi-finals decide who will compete in the gold medal final, and who will race off for bronze.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic cycling: Track sprint schedule

Wednesday, August 4, 3.30pm - 7.00pm Japan/7.30am - 11am UK

Men's Sprint Qualifying

Men's Sprint 1/32 Finals

Men's Sprint 1/32 Finals Repechages

Men's Sprint 1/16 Finals

Men's Sprint 1/16 Finals Repechages

Thursday, August 5, 3.30pm - 6:50pm Japan/7.30am - 10.50am UK

Men's Sprint 1/8 Finals

Men's Sprint 1/8 Finals Repechages

Men's Sprint 1/4 Finals

Men's Sprint Final Places 5 to 8

Friday, August 6, 3.30pm - 5.15pm Japan/7.30am - 9.15am UK

Women's Sprint Qualifying

Men's Sprint 1/2 Finals

Women's Sprint 1/32 Finals

Women's Sprint 1/32 Finals Repechages

Men's Sprint Final Places 3-4 & 1-2

Women's Sprint 1/16 Finals

Women's Sprint 1/16 Finals Repechages

Men's Sprint Victory Ceremony

Saturday, August 7, 3.30pm - 6.25pm Japan/7.30am - 10.25am UK

Women's Sprint 1/8 Finals

Women's Sprint 1/8 Finals Repechages

Women's Sprint Quarterfinals

Sunday, August 8, 10am - 1.15pm Japan/2am - 5.15am UK

Women's Sprint Semifinals

Women's Sprint Race Place 5-8

Women's Sprint Finals

Women's Sprint Victory Ceremony

Richard Windsor
Richard Windsor

Richard is digital editor of Cycling Weekly. Joining the team in 2013, Richard became editor of the website in 2014 and coordinates site content and strategy, leading the news team in coverage of the world's biggest races and working with the tech editor to deliver comprehensive buying guides, reviews, and the latest product news.


An occasional racer, Richard spends most of his time preparing for long-distance touring rides these days, or getting out to the Surrey Hills on the weekend on his Specialized Tarmac SL7 (with an obligatory pub stop of course).