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Speed skating's newest event, explained

Jeffrey Swinger

Speed skating's newest event, explained

The International Olympic Committee announced in 2015 that the mass start would join the next Olympic program.

Mass start will make its Olympic debut at the PyeongChang Winter Games. 

The mass start in speed skating is one of four new events at the 2018 Winter Games, and will make its Olympic debut alongside curling mixed doubles, the team event in Alpine skiing and snowboard big air. With the addition of mass start, speed skating will now have seven events for both men and women. 

The event was successfully introduced at the past two Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer and Innsbruck as well as on the ISU World Cup circuit beginning in the 2011-12 season. The biathlon and cross-country skiing programs already include similar mass start events. 

The event will bring a new element of chaos and excitement to speed skating. 

“Mass start's amazing because as soon as you cross the line, you know who first, second and third are,” current mass start world champion Joey Mantia said. “It's easy to follow. It's just traditional racing.”

It also brings elements of short track into long track speed skating. As opposed to other speed skating events where pairs of two race against the clock, mass start puts all of the skater on the ice at the same time.

“The mass start is actually one event that short-trackers could excel in,” two-time Olympian Heather Bergsma said. “It is a pack-style race. It takes me back to the inline [skating] days where that was more pack-style racing. I really enjoy it because you have to have a tactic with it. Not only the fastest person wins. Someone can break away from the group or it can be an end sprint. You never know.” 

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Mass start also adds strategic challenges.

“The mass start, it's more like NASCAR on ice,” four-time Olympian K.C. Boutiette said.  “You got guys ripping around. You got drafting. You got people trying to break away from the field. There's a lot going on. I think the coolest thing is that right at the end of the race, with five laps to go, you can see the excitement.”

In mass start, up to 24 skaters race 16 laps around the 400m oval. The 6,400m travelled in the race make it the second longest speed skating event behind the 10,000m. As a result, the race requires more stamina than usual. 

“I think this year we're gonna put into play a little bit different training program,” Mantia said. “So you do multiple laps and progressively get faster and faster, which is something that we don't traditionally do for long track style, time trial racing training.”

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

Regardless of sprint points at the end of the of the race, the first three skaters to cross the finish line finish in that order. But sprint points do affect the non-podium finishers as points can carry skaters up or down the final standings. 

Mantia is currently the world champion in the mass start and will be looking to add the Olympic title to his resume in PyeongChang. 

“The only thing that I'm really chasing still in my career is an Olympic gold medal. That's the only thing I want left,” Mantia said.

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Fellow American Heather Bergsma finished third in the women’s mass start at last year’s Worlds. Bergsma and Mantia, along with teammates Brian Hansen and Mia Manganello, all qualified to race in the mass start at the Olympics. 

Hosts South Korea boast a decorated team in the mass start.

At the 2016 Youth Olympic Games they won the men’s and women’s mass start. Kim Min-Seok and Chung Jae-Woong took home the gold and the silver for South Korea on the men’s side at those Games. The two of them will join 2016 mass start world champion Lee Seung-Hoon in PyeongChang. Fellow South Korean Kim Bo-Reum is the current women’s world champion in the event.

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