Short Track Speed Skating at the Winter Olympics
Short track speed skating is the North American version of speed skating. Short track skating competitions originated in Canada and the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. Although it has its origins in the traditional speed skating from Holland, the short track speed skating you’ll see in the Olympics today is a more rough-and-tumble sport that, in many ways, looks more like roller derby than traditional speed skating.
Short track speed skating was a demonstration sport in 1988 and official joined the Winter Olympic lineup in 1992. The short track speed skating competition during the Winter Olympics consists of the following races for both men and women: 500 m, 1000 m, and 1500 m. There is also a 3000 m women’s relay and a men’s 5000 m relay.
In short track speed skating, skaters race each other around a 111.12 meter oval track (the size of a hockey rink). They race several heats in groups of 4-6 skaters at a time. The first two athletes to cross the finish line move on the next round until the field is narrowed to just the top four athletes.
Skaters are not able to build up to the kind of speeds you see in traditional speed skating for the same distances. In the short track events, a large part of wining is having the right strategy to pass other skaters. Often competitors from the same nation or sympathetic nations will team up with each other to maneuver around other competitors.
The short track speed skating relay is unique. There is no set rule as to how many laps must be completed in each leg. The only rule being that the last two laps have to be skated by the same skater. Consequently, there could be as many as 8 different handoffs in a single race. In most races, skaters don’t run more than 1.5 laps at a time.
In order for a handoff to occur, the skater must only touch the next skater in line. However, it is most common to see them crouch down and run up on the next skater giving them a push to build momentum.
Because of the close quarters and tight turns, there is quite a bit of jostling that goes on — and this does not violate any rules. However, skaters are not allowed to be too aggressive, or to intentionally injury other skaters. Still, wipe outs are common and skaters often get tripped up when another skater falls. Consequently, injuries in this sport are fairly common. For safety, skaters will often wear extra padding and sometimes helmets. The IOC has also adopted a padding system for the walls around the track to reduce the number of injuries during a collision.