Track cycling features riders flying around a track and racing to the finish line at speeds as high as 45 miles per hour. Not only do track cyclists have to be physically fit, but they also have to be tough and determined -- especially if they wish to take home Olympic gold.
Today, track cycling events are contested at the Olympic Games in an indoor velodrome. At the 2012 Olympic Games, nearly 6,000 fans will pack the stands to watch athletes compete in ten track cycling events. A total of 188 athletes will compete in the events, and Olympic track cycling has grown to include both men's and women's events.
Track Cycling at Early Olympic Games
That wasn't always the case though, and when the sport debuted at the 1896 Olympic Games, only men's events were contested. There, athletes competed on indoor, two-lane wooden velodromes, and Paul Masson of France was the first track cyclist to take home a gold medal. He did so in the men's individual sprint event.
Track cycling has been held in each Olympic Games since, with the exception of the 1912 Games in Stockholm. By 1924, the IOC had put together a fairly consistent track cycling program, and until 1964, that program remained the same. The events included a sprint race, a one-kilometer time trial, a tandem race and a team pursuit race.
In 1964, the individual pursuit race was added, and in 1972 the tandem race was dropped.
1988: Women's Track Cycling is Introduced to the Olympic Games
It wasn't until 1988 that women's track cycling was first included at the Olympic Games. That year, a women's sprint race was added, and Erika Salumae of the Soviet Union won gold. In fact, Salumae repeated as women's sprint champion in 1992, this time representing Estonia.
In 1992, a women's 3,000-meter individual pursuit event was added, and by the time the 2000 Olympics began, women also were able to compete in a 500-meter time trial event.
2000-2012: New Events Introduced for both Men and Women
In addition to adding an event for women at the 2000 Olympic Games, the IOC also voted to include the keiren and team sprint events for men at the same Olympic Games.
More changes will come in 2012, as the men's and women's omnium events will both debut. In addition, the first women's keiren and team pursuit events are scheduled to be held in London.
Sandra Johnson is a longtime Olympic fan. While working for the United States Olympic Committee and living in the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., Johnson had the opportunity to immerse herself in the Olympic Movement. Follow her on Twitter: @SandraJohnson46.