Photo Feature: Keirin By Fredrik Clement


One day I am going to get to Japan, and one of the first things I hope to do is go to a Keirin race. The track racing scene is alive and well in Japan, with annual bets getting up to ¥1,5 trillion ($15 billion). Seats are hard to come by for the bigger events, with more than 20 million Japanese attended Keirin races last year. The riders trained specifically for the 2km event have all earned the privilege of competing professionally by passing through the Japan Bicycle Racing School in Shuzenji. With school days that start at 6.30am, that include 100km road rides before lunch, schooling, cleaning chores and track training in the afternoon, it takes a dedicated rider to stick it out and survive.

Unfortunately graduating does not always guarantee you a ride, with only a percentage of the 150 graduates making it on to the track. Those that do get the “honor” of wearing the green striped shorts with seven white stars denoting “Rookie“. Top professionals can race up to 100 days per year at the 4 day events. Riders are locked down at the tracks during the events and isolated from all contact with the outside world to prevent race fixing. Top riders earn up to ¥100 million a year, a very good living, with some riders sustaining that level well into their 40s. Unfortunately for the pros at the bottom of the league life is a constant test, with each rider being accessed every 6 months. Failure to compete at a consistent level means getting demoted out of the pro ranks, a place where it is very hard to return from.

One of the enduring stars of the Keirin scene is “Tomity“. Toshihiko Tomita is a 52 year old, 29 year Keirin veteran. Yeah, read that line again and think about it for a while. For 29 years Tomity maintained the power to stay at the top of the pro ranks, despite a constant challenge and influx of new young talent. On a trip to Japan photographer Fredrik Clement was able to spend a day with Tomity training at the Seibuen velodrome before he retired. His photo essay presents the opposite atmosphere to that felt on race night. The empty stadiums where the riders train appear cold, empty and emotionless, and behind the scenes the rider facilities present a picture of a harsh and simple life. We were lucky enough for Fredrik to allow us to feature this series. Cheers mate.


Categories: Races / Riders


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