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2018 Winter Olympics: Speed Skating

2018 Winter Olympics Pyeongchang

Mass start brings a new twist to an old classic

2018 Speedskating Championship
Source: AP Photo/Jens Meyer

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Did You Know?

In the 1998 and 2002 Games, there were two women on the Chinese short-track team with the name Yang Yang. To distinguish them, one went by Yang Yang (A), while the other by Yang Yang (S).

 

Though speed skating can be traced back to England in the mid-1700's, the Netherlands is widely considered the sport's birthplace. Men's speed skating has been an Olympic sport since the first Winter Games in 1924. Women's speed skating became an official event in 1960 at Squaw Valley. Though short-track speed skating dates back to the late 1800's, the sport didn't become an officially recognized Olympic event until the 1992 Albertville Games.

Since 1998, when the "clap" skate was officially approved for Olympics competition, speed records have been set at…a record pace. The skate is a technological breakthrough in which the blade actually detaches from the heel of the skate, allowing for it to stay on the ice longer.

The 2018 games see in the introduction of the mass start event to Olympic speed skating.

The events

There are two basic categories of speed skating. These are short track events and long track events.

Short Track:

It's been called the demolition derby of the Olympics. In short-track speed skating, competitors squeeze into a tight oval track measuring just 111 meters (364 ft) around. At full speed, they jockey for position and often bump one another. Spills are frequent and sometimes nasty.

The competition consisted of four events in 1992, but was expanded to eight in 2002:

  • 500 meters (men's and women's)
  • 1,000 meters (men's and women's)
  • 1,500 meters (men's and women's)
  • 3,000 meter relay (women's)
  • 5,000 meter relay (men's)

In the 500- and 1,000-meter events, four skaters are on the track for each heat, while in the 1,500-meter event there are six skaters on the ice. The thrilling speed skating relay events, unlike running relays, do not involve handing off batons. Instead the athletes are simply given a push by their teammates when it's time to skate.

Long Track:

The type of speed skating that most Americans are familiar with is the long-track variety. The track here is, as the name would suggest, longer, and less crowded.

There are currently fourteen events in long track, with the addition of mass start:

  • 500 meters (men's and women's)
  • 1,000 meters (men's and women's)
  • 1,500 meters (men's and women's)
  • 5,000 meters (men's and women's)
  • 3,000 meters (women's)
  • 10,000 meters (men's)
  • Team pursuit (men's and women's)
  • Mass Start (men's and women's)

The Pyeongchang Games

The speed skating events will be held at the Gangneung Oval in Gangneung. The events will begin with the women's 3,000m on Feb. 10, and will conclude with the men's mass start on Feb. 24.

 
More about the 2018 Winter Olympics