Speed Skating Competitions at the Winter Olympics
Speed skating began in Holland hundreds of years ago as simply a method of transportation. By the 1800’s, the sport had spread across Northern Europe and to the United States. Thanks to its popularity, speed skating has been a part of the Winter Olympics since 1924, although only the men were allowed to compete until 1960, when the first women’s events took place at Lake Placid.
The speed skating competition during the Winter Olympics consists of the following races for both men and women: 500 meters, 1000 meters, 1500 meters, 5000 meters, and team pursuit. There is also a 3000-meter women’s race and a 10,000-meter men’s race.
In speed skating, racers compete on a 400-meter oval. Skaters race in pairs through several heats, building up to the finals. Through the course of the race, the skaters must switch lanes every lap without blocking or interfering with each other. If they both arrive at the transition point at the same time, the skater in the inside lane has the right of way.
The only event that doesn’t follow this pattern is the team pursuit. In the pursuit, two entire teams (3 people) begin at either side straightway on the oval at the same time. Teams use a variety of drafting techniques to help each other finish with the best possible time. Time is counted until all three teammates cross the finish line. Women run 6 laps and men run 8.
Thanks to the high speeds in this sport, skaters often employ the most scientific approach possible to both equipment and technique. Skaters will wear skin-tight fully body suits that are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. They also use a clap skate, in which only the toe is secured to the blade. This allows the heel of the foot to rise through the stroke while keeping the full blade on the ice.
Speed skating is the fastest unaided sport in the world, with skaters often exceeding 35 mph as the race around the track. Because of the high speeds reached, the skaters experience a centrifugal force that pushes them away from the center of the track. To make the most of this natural force, skaters will lean their bodies at roughly a 45% angle in the corners. By doing so, they are able to harness some of the gravitational force to propel them faster around the track.
Even still, the margin of victory is often down to the hundredths of a second. This is an exciting sport to watch!