The Sport of Speed Skating
The fastest sport on ice, speed skating was invented in Scotland in the 1500s with competitors using sharpened iron as skates. The world’s top speed skating competitors come from the Netherlands, Norway, and South Korea -- but more athletes from North America are coming onto the scene. When speed skating came to the U.S. in the late 1800s, the first pair of steel skates were developed and have been used in the sport since.
How to Speed Skate
Think of speed skating as the Winter Olympic version of sprinting in track and field. Speed skaters are incredibly physically fit, as they must maintain a low center of gravity and precise technique throughout the race in order to build speed.
Speed skaters wear aerodynamic helmets which were specifically developed for the sport, skating suits, and long skating blades which differ from the blades used in hockey or figure skating. These lengthy blades help keep skaters balanced when they make sharp turns.
Rules of Speed Skating
- There are two different types of events in speed skating: the short track, and the long track. The short track is an individual event where skaters will compete within a 111 meter oval. Long track is a team event featuring up to four racers per team. This is competed on a 400 meter oval track.
- The equipment also differs between short and long track races. Short tracks require racers to sport ceramic or carbon fibre tipped gloves, protective eyewear, and kevlar at the national level. In long track, the only thing that’s required is protective eyewear. Long track skating also features a spandex “hood” on the one-piece suit.
- All races are competed counter-clockwise.
- All races begin with a literal running start after the judges gun has been fired.
- Digging into the ice before the race, deliberately impeding or crashing into a racer, or a false start can lead to the disqualification of a racer.
- In long track, skaters must change out with every lap with a teammate. The outside skater will always have the right-of-way when switching out.
- There is never a tie in speed skating. Like any high-speed racing event, if the finishing is too close to tell with the naked eye, it will go to a photo finish.
A low center of gravity, refined skating blades, and technique isn’t the only thing that helps speed skaters shave time. As technology continues to grow, speed skating suits are becoming more aerodynamic -- which allows skaters to reach even faster speeds. As of now, speed skaters can average anywhere from 30 to 35 mph.
Written by: Devin Pickell