- Speed Skating
Speedskating 101 with former coach of Olympians
It is that time again. Every two years, the world gets Olympic fever, and this year it’s the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. We also wake up from a four-year hibernation from paying attention to the United States' most successful Winter Olympic sport, speed skating.
The real question is, are you ready for some speed skating? If you are an Olympics fan, and you are not up to date on your speed skating, make like a skater waiting to start a race. Take a deep breath and relax. This guy who has coached some of our current U.S. Olympians is here to help.
Over the next few articles, I will be giving you a crash course in the sport of speed skating, a preview of the races, and our American contenders.
Let’s get started.
Speedskating is broken into two categories; long track and short track. Both are called speed skating. Both types turn left, but that is about all that is the same.
What are the differences?
1. Track size: Long track uses a two lane, 400 meter oval, like the outer oval at the Pettit National Ice Center. Short track, on the other hand, uses a single lane, 111 meter oval laid out on an international size hockey rink.
2. Types of skates: While at a glance they look the same, there are big differences. First, the long track skates (also know as clap skates) are hinged at the front just under the ball of the skater’s foot, allowing for longer contact with the ice, therefore a longer push.
For safety reasons, short track blades are fixed blades and cannot be hinged or separate in any way. Short track blades are also offset to the left on the boot and the boot is higher off the ice than a long track skate. This is due to how sharp the turns are in short track, and how far the skaters have to lean into the turns.
Long track turns are not as sharp, so the boot is closer to the ice and the blades are more centered in the foot. Both type of boots are custom-molded to each athlete’s foot and the blades are bent and shaped to each skater’s preference. Oh, and did I mention those blades are razor sharp?
3.Suits: Long track is a full-length hooded “skin” suit, whereas a short track suit is hoodless and has knee pads and shin guards. Short track skaters are also required to wear a cut resistant layer under that skin suit, as well as neck guards. Instead of a hood, short trackers are also required to wear helmets, cut resistant gloves and shatter proof glasses.
4. How many racers at one time, and how is the race conducted? Long track is raced in pairs and athletes are compared by time to determine the winners. During a long track race, skaters will switch lanes every lap. This switch is done on the backstretch and is done to compensate for having to skate inner and outer lanes.
Starting positions are also offset by ten meters to compensate for the inner and outer lanes. The only races where the skaters are side-by-side at the start is in the 500 meter and team pursuit races.
Long track skating is all about speed, and going fast, so there's no need to worry about passing or being passed. The only time you are worried about contact is while switching lanes.
In contrast, short track is skated in a pack and the winner is whoever crosses the line first, and that isn‘t always the fastest skater. It has been compared to roller derby and Nascar on ice. These comparisons are not too far off.
While the actual speed is lower (about 10 mph), the racers are confined to a much smaller area and skaters are always at risk of contact with their competitors and the wall. Short track is raced in a format called pack style, and it is just that; a pack. Each race will have 4 to 6 athletes at the starting line at one time.
The athletes jockey for position throughout the race to put themselves in the best possible position to win. This jockeying happens at different times in the different races. A general rule is the shorter the race, the earlier and more aggressive the passing is. There is an exception to that rule; the team relay. I will cover this race in later articles, but let me sum it up in one word. Chaos!
As our Winter Games coverage continues, I'll get into the individual distances.
I am very excited for this years U.S. Olympic Team. It looks to be a competitive team with medal chance in most of the races. I also see that this team is setting up well for the future with high school-aged athletes like Emery Lehman. He'll be getting his first Olympic experiences, and he is pretty competitive as well.
There is also a chance at history with this team, as Pettit-trained Shani Davis attempts to be the first man in Olympic history to win the men’s 1000m race in three consecutive Olympics. There is a pair of female long track skaters who have been dominating the international events this year in Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson.
There are hometown medal contenders in Tucker Fredricks and Mitch Whitmore in long track, and Alyson Dudek in short track. There is also the journey of “Fast” Eddy Alvarez from Miami among a host of other skaters with great stories.
Embedded owg_slideshow: Meet the U.S. speed skating Olympic team