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Speed skating 101: Competition format

U.S. speed skaters team pursuit

Speed skating 101: Competition format

From the mass start to the team pursuit, how each Olympic race will be contested

There are 14 speed skating events on the 2018 Olympic program, seven for men and seven for women.

Men: 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m, 10,000m, mass start and team pursuit
Women: 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 3000m, 5000m, mass start and team pursuit

A breakdown of the number of laps, start position and finish line location for each event:

Distance Laps        Start Position Finish Line Location
500m 1 ¼ Even End of finish straight
1000m 2 ½ Staggered Middle of finish straight
1500m 3 ¾  Staggered End of finish straight
3000m (women only)  7 ½ Staggered End of finish straight
5000m 12 ½  Staggered End of finish straight
10,000m (men only) 25 Staggered End of finish straight
Mass start 16 Even End of finish straight
Men's team pursuit 8 Middle of opposite straights Middle of straights
Women's team pursuit 6 Middle of opposite straights Middle of straights

Individual Events

Sven Kramer at the 2014 Sochi Olympics

Credit: USA Today Sports

Unlike in short track speed skating, which sees the top skaters race multiple times per distance as they advance through elimination rounds, individual events in long track speed skating have only one round per distance. 

For each individual event except the mass start, skaters race in pairs against the clock on a standard 400-meter oval that has been approved by the International Skating Union (ISU). Athletes are timed to the 1/100th of a second as they skate counter-clockwise around the oval, which means that the inner side of the track is on the left-hand side of the skater.

A draw for the starting order takes place before each race for each single distance. Skaters are placed into four groups based on an individual ranking of the skaters according to results and times achieved in World Cup races during the 2017-2018 season.

Group 1 consists of the best eight skaters; Group 2 has skaters 9-16; Group 3 has skaters 17-24; Group 4 has the rest. (In the men’s 10,000m and women’s 5000m, in which there are fewer competitors, each group consists of four skaters instead of eight.) Group 4 is the first to skate, followed by Group 3, Group 2 and Group 1. Therefore, the best skaters compete in the last pairs.

Mass start

Mass start speed skating

Credit: 2017 Getty Images

The 16-lap mass start event, which will make its debut on the Olympic program in PyeongChang, differs from the other individual speed skating races. Instead of athletes skating in pairs with the fastest time winning, the entire field (maximum of 24 skaters) begin the race simultaneously and results are determined by "sprint points."

Sprint points are awarded during three intermediate sprints, which takes place after lap 4, 8 and 12, and the final sprint. After each intermediate sprint, the first, second and third skaters to cross the finish line will gain 5, 3 or 1 points respectively.

After the final sprint, the first, second and third skaters to gross the finish line will gain 60, 40 and 20 points respectively. 

The system for awarding points is such that the first three skaters across the finish line will also have the most sprint points and win the gold, silver and bronze. The remaining skaters will be ranked by sprint points earned in the intermediate sprints, followed by order of finish. For example, the skater ranked fourth in mass start results may have actually finished the race after the skater ranked fifth, if the fourth-place skater earned more sprint points.

Team Pursuit

Speed skating at the Gangneung Oval

Credit: PyeongChang 2018

In team pursuit races, two teams of three skaters begin in the middle straights on opposite sides of the oval. The men skate over 3200m (eight laps) and the women skate over 2400m (six laps). 

The competitions are held in three phrase: quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. The races are single-elimination, with the winning team advancing to the next round (or winning the gold medal). A team wins when a team’s three skaters all cross the finish line before the other team’s three skaters all cross the finish line; or when one team overtakes the other.

The seeding for the quarterfinals are based on results from designated World Cup races.

·    QF 1: Team 3 vs. Team 5 or 6 (based on random draw)
·    QF 2: Team 2 vs. Team 7 or 8 (based on random draw)
·    QF 3: Team 4 vs. Team 5 or 6 (based on random draw)
·    QF 4: Team 1 vs. Team 7 or 8 (based on random draw)

The winners of each of the four quarterfinals qualify for the semifinals and are matched up as follows:

·    SF 1: Winner of QF 1 vs. Winner of QF 2
·    SF 2: Winner of QF 3 vs. Winner of QF 4

The losers of the four quarterfinal races skate placement races for final ranks 5-8 (C Final and D Final). The winners of each semifinal advance to the A Final to determine gold and silver; the losers compete in the B Final to determine bronze.

Teams may use a maximum of four different skaters throughout the competition and may change the lineup after each round.

Speed Skating

Everything you need to know about the fastest non-mechanical sport in the world

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