Speed skating 101: Equipment
The skate consists of a blade, a shoe and a construction or binding device that connects the shoe to the blade. The device may allow any safe translation and/or rotation of the shoe relative to the blade, thus enabling a skater to achieve optimum physical capacity.
Speed skating rules require that all energy expended during the race must have originated from metabolic work produced by the skater, so the skate may not contain any element or device in violation of that requirement. In particular, it is not permitted to heat the blades of the skates from any external source or by means of any artificial mechanisms.
Blades are made of high-tempered carbon steel and range in length from 40 to 48 centimeters (about 16 to 19 inches) and are about 1.1 millimeters thick (about 0.04 inches).
In order to allow speed skaters to take long, gliding strides, speed skating blades have very little curve compared to hockey, figure or short track skates. Edges of the blades are sharpened to a 90-degree angle for maximum efficiency during the push.
Boots are custom molded to each athlete’s feet and made of carbon fiber leather for a tight fit. The only rigid part of the boot is the heel – the rest conforms to the skater’s foot like a track shoe fits to a sprinter’s foot. Therefore, the upper part of the boot is pliant and is cut low on the ankle. Many skaters choose not to wear socks to get a better feel for the skates.
The clap skate made its Olympic debut at the 1998 Nagano Games and propelled skaters to world records in five events. Unlike conventional skates, the heel of the blade on a clap skate is not attached to the boot, and the toe of the blade is affixed to the boot with a hinged apparatus. At the end of each stride, as the skater picks up her foot, the blade briefly disconnects from the heel of the boot, thereby keeping the blade on the ice longer and increasing the skater’s pushing power. When the blade has fully extended, a spring mechanism mounted on the front of the boot snaps the blade back up to the boot, resulting in the clapping sound that gives the skate its name.
Most racers use some kind of eyewear to help their vision and to keep their eyes from tearing in the wind.
Skaters wear skin-tight suits with an aerodynamic hood and thumb loops to minimize air resistance. Racing suits must conform to the natural shape of the skater's body. Insertion or attachment of forms or devices to create a different shape is not permitted. No attachments except for permanently attached racing stripes with a maximum height of 0.5 cm and a maximum width of 2.5 cm are allowed. The use of a racing suit or skate that does not conform to ISU standards is cause for disqualification.