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About Speed Skating


Speed skating is a competitive form of ice skating in which the competitors race each other in travelling a certain distance on skate. Types of speed skating are long track speed skating, short track speed skating, and marathon speed skating. In the Olympic Games, long-track speed skating is usually referred to as just “speed skating”, while short-track speed skating is known as “short track”. The ISU (International Skating Union), the governing body of both ice sports, refers to long track as “speed skating” and short track as “short track skating”.


Content below provided by Speed Skate Canada

In the Beginning

The roots of ice skating date back over 1,000 years to the frozen canals and waterways of Scandinavia and the Netherlands when men laced animal bones to their footwear and glided across frozen lakes and rivers. By the 1600’s, traveling on blades between villages had become a useful and enjoyable means of transportation for the Dutch. Surprisingly, credit for the first pair of all-iron skates goes to a Scotsman who invented them in 1592. The iron blade accelerated the spread of speed skating and in 1642 the Skating Club of Edinburgh warmed. In 1763 the world’s first organized speed skating race, which covered a distance of slightly more than 24 kilometres, was held on the Fens in England.Eventually, the fledgling sport found its way to North America, where a lighter, sharper and longer all-steel blade was first produced in 1850. In 1889, the Dutch organized the first world championship with skaters covering four distances — 500m, 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m.

The International Skating Union (ISU) was formed in the Netherlands in 1892. By the end of the century, the sport had attracted a mass following in many parts of the world.Canada’s first recorded ice skating race took place on the St. Lawrence River in 1854 when three British army officers raced from Montréal to Québec City. Speed skating races became a regular feature of winter life; and by 1887 the Amateur Skating Association of Canada, the young country’s first sport association, was formed. In 1887, the first official championship was staged by the Amateur Skating Association of Canada; and in 1894 became the first non-European body to join the ISU. (The name was changed to the Canadian Amateur Speed Skating Association in 1960, then to Speed Skating Canada in 2000.)

Three countries — Norway, Germany and Canada — contested the 1897 World Speed Skating Championship in Montréal with the world title going to Winnipegger Jack McCulloch.

Short track speed skating takes place on a 111.12 m oval track on a rink measuring 30m x 60m. Because the corners are tight and it can be difficult for skaters to maintain control, the boards must be covered by protective mats of polyurethane foam at least 20 cm thick with a minimum height of 1 m. The mats are covered with a water-resistant and cut-resistant material and they must be attached to the boards as well as to each other.

The Races

In World Championship competition, men and women skate four distances: 500, 1,000, 1,500 and 3,000 m and relay races over 3,000 m for women and 5,000 m for men. The competition lasts two days. The events are skated in the following order: 1,500, 500, 1,000 and 3,000 m. Instead of racing in pairs as in long track, short track skaters mass start with four to eight skaters on the starting line. Positions are drawn by lot and the competition pits skater against skater. Strategies and tactics are very important in a race. Races are often won by the smartest rather than the fastest skater. In international competitions, skaters must finish among the top two in their heat, quarterfinals and semifinals to qualify for the 500 m, 1,000 m and 1,500 m finals. Only the skaters who accumulate points in previous finals are eligible for the 3,000 m final.

First place receives 34 points; second place, 21 points; third place, 13 points; fourth place, 8 points, fifth place, 5 points, sixth place, 3 points, seventh place, 2 points, and eighth place, 1 point. The winner of the World Short Track Speed Skating title is the skater with the highest number of final points when the championship ends.

Officiating and Judging

The chief official at a short track competition is the referee. The referee, who oversees the assignment of competitors to heats, determines when the ice must be resurfaced, and monitors the races. Along with the referee, assistant referees ensure fair racing. They have the power to disqualify and can also advance a skater who has been knocked down by another skater committing a passing foul to the next round. The starter is responsible for ensuring that all skaters receive a fair start. Short track skaters are allowed one false start before disqualification. The timers provide manual back-up to the electronic timing system, the judges determine the placings, and the lap recorders keep track of the laps remaining in the race and pass this information on to the skaters. They also ring a bell to signify the start of the last lap. Track stewards replace corner blocks if they are kicked out of position and watch for skaters skating inside the blocks. The competitor’s steward assigns the skaters to heats. The recorder keeps track of race results and prepares the final standings.

The Rules

Races are skated counterclockwise. Overtaking is allowed but the skater who overtakes is responsible for any collision or obstruction that results from the overtaking. If a skater is lapped, he or she may be moved to the outside track by the referee, and if lapped twice, must leave the race.

A few basic rules govern passing. The lead skater has the right-of-way and the passing skater assumes responsibility for avoiding body contact. The most frequent passing infraction, called charging the block, occurs when a skater passes on the inside of the congested area near the top of the corner. An experienced skater won’t let anyone sneak by the inside and can, by holding his or her track, force overtaking skaters to back off or go around the outside. Another common cause for disqualification is changing lanes or altering the course at the finish. Competitors are supposed to skate in a straight line from the end of the corner to the finish line; veering inside or outside to maintain the lead is grounds for disqualification.

Technique and Strategy

Short track speed skaters use many of the same strategies and tactics as track racers (e.g. running or cycling). Well-conditioned skaters may elect to lead from the gun hoping to wear out the competition. Others may choose to conserve energy for a finishing sprint. And some may throw in several sprints during a race in hopes of causing confusion in the pack. Whatever the strategy, a basic tactic for every skater is to be no worse than second or third with four or five laps to go. The result is plenty of passing as skaters seek to improve their positions in the pack. Passing requires instant acceleration, agility, good balance and nerves of steel.

Relay Races

Relay races normally involve four teams of four skaters per race. Each skater must take at least one turn out on the track. Normally, the skaters will exchange turns in rotation, with those not on the track either resting, covering the skater on the track, or preparing to receive a relay, all on the inside of the track. Instead of passing a baton, the skater on the track needs to only tag the incoming skater to complete an exchange. However, in order to maintain momentum, it is more common for the incoming skater to crouch and receive a push from behind. In the event of a fall, a covering skater may tag the fallen skater and continue the race. A gun will sound indicating three laps remaining, which means that each team may only complete one more exchange. One skater must complete the final two laps, except if the skater falls.

Racing in pairs, counterclockwise, on two lanes of a 400 m oval track, the skaters change lanes every lap in order to equalize the distance covered. The skater in the outside lane has the right-of-way at the crossover if the skaters arrive at the same time. At most competitions, four distances are raced — 500, 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000m for women and 500, 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000m for the men.

Pairs are selected by a draw held by the referee the night before the first race. As a rule, skaters are grouped by performance. A random draw designates the starting lanes, inner or outer, and the starting order for each group. Separate draws are held for each race. Group one, the fastest skaters, usually races first. The skater starting in the inner lane wears a white armband and the skater in the outer lane wears a red armband.

The skaters race against the clock and their times from each race are converted into a point system known as the Sammelagt Point System, which simply means total points. Each racer’s point total is based on his or her performance time over a given distance. The points for the 500 m race are determined by a skater’s time in seconds. For example, if a skater covers the distance in 37.65 seconds, he or she has 37.650 points. In order for each distance to contribute equally to the total, the skater’s time for longer races is converted into seconds then divided by the number of 500 m in the event. The final results are determined by adding each skater’s points for the four distances raced. The overall winner is the skater with the fewest points.

Officiating and Judging

As the chief official in a speed skating competition, the referee oversees the draw for racing pairs, decides when to resurface the ice, monitors the races, and ensures the orderly progression of the competition. Other officials are: the starter, who ensures fair start for all competitors; the timers, who provide manual backup to the electronic timing system; the judges, who determine the final placings of each pair; and the track stewards, who maintain the lane markers and watch for infractions to the rules. The lap recorder keeps track of the laps remaining in each race, indicates the number to the skaters, and rings a bell to warn of the start of the last lap. The recorder keeps track of race results and compiles the final race standings. Starting commands are simple. The skaters approach the start on the command, “Go to the start.” On “Ready” they assume their starting positions. Both skaters must be motionless for 1 to 1.5 seconds before the starter fires the gun.

Racing Rules

Skaters are allowed only one false start before they are disqualified. They are not allowed to skate inside their individual lane markers. The inside skate may cross the lane line when entering a corner, providing the gliding skate, the one bearing the skater’s weight, remains outside. Skaters must cross over on every lap. The skater moving from the outer lane to the inner lane has the right-of-way when both skaters exit the corner simultaneously.

Mass Start Event

The mass start event has been sanctioned as an official Olympic distance since the spring of 2015. Men and women race separately with up to 24 athletes on the start line together and complete 16 laps. There are three sprint laps to gain points which occur at the end of the 4th lap, 8th laps and 12th lap. At the end of the race, those who cross in the top three positions are in podium positions. Those finishing from fourth place and lower will be ranked according to points earned and finishing time, respectively in that order.

Special equipment is required for the safety of the competitors in the mass start event. Helmets, cut resistant racing suits or underwear, shin guards, cut resistant or leather gloves and cut resistant neck and ankle protection. The competitors must also use blades which must be rounded off to 1 cm radius. In Canada, skaters must also have eye protection.

“Fair play” is the basic rule of engagement. Skaters must not obstruct other competitors or create dangerous situations in the race. Competitors who are lapped by the leader must stop racing immediately. If a crash occurs in the first lap and consists of 6 or more skaters, the race will be stopped and a fresh start will occur.


Coaches work closely with the skaters during races, particularly the longer distances, using pre-planned schedules to help the skaters maintain consistent lap times. Before racing, skaters select a time that they feel they can skate, based on the weather, ice conditions, their physical capabilities, and the times the other competitors are skating. The key to a good long track performance is to skate each lap at the same speed. By comparing split times, which are taken each time the skater crosses the finish line, coaches can let the skaters know how they are doing. Coaches stand at the side of the track near the top of the backstretch and communicate verbally, visually with a lap-board that displays numbers and with hand signals. Sometimes the coach simply calls out the lap time and the more experienced skaters convert it into a final time.


Force is maximized in speed skating by adopting the crouched position which reduces air resistance and which is characteristic of the sport. The lower the crouch, the more the leg can extend to the side during the push, lengthening the time spent applying force to the ice.

With conventional, fixed-blade speed skates, good technical speed skating is almost soundless — except during the start — because the push is delivered through the middle of the skate, not the toe. The new clapskate, however, permits skaters to push with their toe, thus utilising their calf muscles more efficiently and generating more speed. Clapskates also prevent the tip of the blade from digging into the ice and more importantly, they let the blade stay in contact longer with the ice.

Most skaters adopt a starting position with their weight evenly distributed between the two skates. The front foot is placed on the ice, perpendicular to the starting line. The back foot is placed at an angle to the starting line so that the initial push is as powerful as possible. Some skaters run off the starting line, going for maximum leg speed; others try to skate off concentrating on maximum push and leg extension. More recently, due to the influence of inline skating, some athletes are using a down-start position. The down-start is closer to a running start technique, where the athlete has his skates slightly behind him and rests some weight on one hand placed on the ice creating a three point position. Whatever the technique, all skaters strive for a smooth transition from the short steps of the start to the long, smooth efficient push of full speed skating.

The sport of short track speed skating, characterized by the mass start, originated in Canada and the United States in 1905, with the first known competition to have taken place in 1909. By the 1920s and 1930s, crowds regularly packed New York’s Madison Square Garden in anticipation of the thrills and spills that characterize the sport. At the same time, it was gaining popularity in Great Britain, Japan, France, Belgium, and Australia.

Short track speed skating became part of the ISU in 1967, although it would be some time before ISU-sanctioned competitions were organized on a world-wide basis. In the meantime, Great Britain, Belgium, France, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States competed among themselves. International competitions began in the 1970s and an official ISU competition was launched in 1976. In 1981, the sport’s first World Championship was held at Meudon-la-Forêt, France.

In 1984 the name of the discipline was changed to Indoor Short Track Speed Skating and the use of a hard shell helmet became mandatory. Another milestone occurred in 1988 when the sport made its Olympic debut as a demonstration event at the Calgary Winter Olympic Games. Full medal status came in 1992 at the Albertville Winter Games.

Despite its relatively short history, short track speed skating has produced many illustrious moments — many of which have belonged to Canadians. In the early days, it was common for world long track champions to race in short track events. One of the first stars was Lela Brooks, who is still regarded as one of Canada’s foremost female athletes.

Domination of the discipline has seesawed between Canada and the United States with the Canadians taking the the early honours and the Americans dominating the scene from 1940 to 1960. For the next couple of decades, titles were shared between Americans and Canadians, with such familiar names as Gaétan Boucher and Sylvie Daigle taking world titles. At the same time, Japan began to emerge as a powerhouse. Today, the sport is developing rapidly in the Netherlands and Italy as well as China, South Korea, and more recently, Russia and Hungary. The 1992 Winter Olympic Games catapulted short track into the public eye and the sport arena. Canada captured three short track medals at the Games: silver in the men’s relay, Frédéric Blackburn’s silver in the 1,000m and gold in the women’s relay. The 1994 Olympic Games were also very good for the short track team. Nathalie Lambert won an individual silver medal in the 1,000m and the women’s relay team won a silver despite a fall. Marc Gagnon won a bronze medal in the 1,000 m while the men’s relay team finished 4th. At the 1994 World Championship, Marc Gagnon became the first male back to back World Champion, while Frédéric Blackburn and Derrick Campbell finished 2nd and 4th overall. Nathalie Lambert captured her third World Championship title, while the women’s relay team won its 9th consecutive relay title. The Women’s team also captured the World Team Championship in Cambridge, Ontario. The Men’s team finished second.

In 1995, the men’s team became the World Team Champion and in the process broke the World Record in the 5,000m Relay. Marc Gagnon and Frédéric Blackburn finished 2nd and 3rd respectively at the World Short Track Championships. The women’s team also finished 3rd at the World Team Championships. Finally, Patrice Lapointe and Jonathan Guilmette both finished 2nd overall at the Junior World Championships while Catherine Dussault finished third on the women’s side. In 1996, Marc Gagnon regained his World Championship title while the men’s team successfully retained its World Team Champion status. Isabelle Charest broke the World record in the 500m and finished 3rd overall at the World 78 Championships. Jean-François Monette won
the Junior World Short Track Championships. 1997, Marc Gagnon finished 2nd overall at the World Short Track Championships and Derrick Campbell finished 3rd overall. At these Championships, Isabelle Charest broke the World record in the 500m, the women’s team captured the gold in the relay and the Men’s team finished 2nd in the relay.

The 1998 season was another successful year for the Canadian Short Track team. The 5,000m relay team of Marc Gagnon, Derrick Campbell, Éric Bédard and François Drolet won the Olympic and World Championships gold medals. Mathieu Turcotte joined them in winning the World Team Championships. Éric Bédard surprised many by winning a bronze in Nagano in the 1,000 m in only his first full year on the Canadian team. Marc Gagnon regained his overall World title, his fourth in six years, by winning the 1,000m and 1,500m races, and Éric Bédard claimed a silver in the 500m at the Worlds. Annie Perreault became one of the most decorated female Winter Olympians that Canada has ever known by winning the 500m gold medal in Nagano and teaming up with Isabelle Charest, Tania Vicent and Christine Boudrias to win a bronze medal in the 3,000m relay. She followed up her Olympic performance by bringing home a silver medal in the 500m from the World Championships. The women’s team placed 3rd at the World Team Championships. François-Louis Tremblay finished 1st overall at the World Junior Championships and Andrew Lahey came in 3rd.

The 98-99 season was crowned with success. Both the men and women’s teams finished 2nd at World Team Championships. Andrew Quinn won bronze at the World Championships, finishing 3rd in the 1,000 m. François-Louis Tremblay finished 3rd at the Junior World Championships and Marie-Êve Drolet finished 2nd in both the 500m and 1,500m. The 99-00 season was also very good for Canadian short track speed skaters. Éric Bédard finished 2nd overall at the World Championships. During the same competition, the women’s relay team finished in 3rd position. At the World Team Championships, the men’s team finished 1st. Marie-Êve Drolet won the World Junior Championships and Andrew Lahey finished in 3rd place.

Olympic speed skating, or long track as it is known today, made its debut at the first Winter Olympics in 1924 in Chamonix, France and it has been a highlight of the Games ever since. Early Olympic competition was dominated by the Finns and Norwegians; however, the Americans invariably provided stiff competition.

Canada’s first Olympic speed skating medals were won in 1932 in Lake Placid. The medal count was one silver and four bronze for the men while the women, competing in demonstration events, captured one gold and two silver medals. A star of those Games was the legendary Lela Brooks, who in 1925 set six world records and in 1926 became the first all-around world champion.

By the late 1930s, popular interest in speed skating began to decline; and as hockey arenas were built, professional hockey hastened the diminishing spectator appeal of the sport. The advent of World War II also took a toll on the popularity of Canadian speed skating. When Olympic competition resumed in 1948, the Norwegians remained the skaters to beat. However, at the 1952 Oslo Games Canada’s Gordon Audley brought home the 500m bronze medal. By 1956 at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, speed skaters from the Soviet Union (absent from Olympic competition for 48 years) ended the Norwegian stranglehold on Olympic speed skating. The Canadians were shut out and would have to wait until 1976 to mount the victor’s podium once again.

The 1972 Games were memorable because of the Dutchman, Ard Schenk, winner of three gold medals. For Canada, Sapporo stands out because it marked the Olympic debut of Sylvia Burka, Canada’s greatest modern female speed skater. Inspired by her Olympic experience, Burka went on to enjoy an illustrious career which included three Olympic appearances and the World Sprint Championship title in 1976. Sprinter Cathy Priestner is another outstanding Canadian performer. She was the first Canadian woman to win an official Olympic medal, taking the 500m silver at the 1976 Innsbruck Winter Olympic Games.

It was in Innsbruck that a 17-year-old Gaétan Boucher first tested Olympic waters attracting international attention with a respectable sixth-place finish in 1,000m. At the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games, Boucher provided Canada’s top result of the Games, winning the silver medal in the 1,000 m, and the best was yet to come. At the 1984 Sarajevo Games, Boucher got off to a quick start winning an unexpected bronze medal in 500m — an event he described as a warm-up for his specialties, the 1,000m and 1,500m events. He was right. By the end of the Games he had earned two gold medals to add to his bronze and he won both in decisive fashion. Plagued over the next four years by a recurring ankle injury suffered in 1983, Boucher competed valiantly on home ice at the 1988 Calgary Games. Unfortunately, he finished out of the medal standings and retired from the sport.

The next four years proved to be a building period for Canada. The top long track speed skating result for the 1992 Albertville Games was Guy Thibault’s seventh in the 1,000 m. Kevin Scott and Sean Ireland and two new-comers to the Olympic scene, Patrick Kelly and Neal Marshall used the Games as building blocks for their next challenge, the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. On the women’s team, Susan Auch was Canada’s best performer, finishing 6th in the 500 m. Susan then set her eyes on the podium for Norway. At the Lillehammer Winter Olympic Games, Susan Auch won the first medal in long track for Canada since the 1984 Games by placing second in the 500m and 8th in the 1,000m. In the men’s competition, Sylvain Bouchard, Patrick Kelly and Kevin Scott placed 5th, 6th and 10th respectively in the 1,000m, while Neal Marshall finished 7th in the 1,500m. Most of these skaters would become the foundation of Canada’s team for the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Since 1994, the long track team has had excellent performances at the world level. It started with a bang in 1994 when Kevin Scott broke the world record in the 1,000m during the Canadian Sprint Championship and then won the gold medal in the 1,000m at the World Sprint Championship in Milwaukee. During that championship, Susan Auch won the silver in the 500m. Overall, Canada placed three men in the top 11 and two women in the top 10 during this championship. In 1995, Neal Marshall became the first Canadian to win a World Cup title in the 1,500m. Canada also earned five medals at the various World Senior Championships and added two more at the Junior World Championships. In 1996, Catriona LeMay Doan won a gold and a silver medal in the 500m at the World Sprint Championships while Susan Auch earned a bronze medal at the same competition. Kevin Overland and Sylvain Bouchard broke the World Record in the 1,000m at the Canadian Championships. In 1997, Neal Marshall broke the 1,500m World Record again and also won a bronze medal in this distance at the World Single Distance Championships. Jason Parker won a bronze medal in the same distance at the World All-Round Championships while Catriona LeMay Doan earned a silver medal in the 500 m of the World Sprint Championships.

The 1997-1998 season was the best ever for the Canadian long track team. Five Olympic medals, 18 World Championship medals and 42 World Cup medals were won by 8 different members of the team. Four overall World Cup titles were also captured by Canadian skaters. Leading the way was Catriona LeMay Doan, who won gold in every 500m event she entered, save one World Cup where she was beaten by teammate Susan Auch. She won a gold in the 500m and bronze in the 1,000m at the Nagano Olympics, the World Sprint Championships, gold and silver in the 500m and 1,000m respectively at the World Single Distance Championships, the overall World Cup titles for those same distances and at one point, held the 500m, 1,000m, and 1,500m World Records. She finished the season with the 500 m World and Olympic Records to her name. Not to be outdone, Susan Auch won 500 m silver medals at the Nagano Olympics and the World Sprint Championships and finished the season second overall in the World Cup standings for that distance.

A Canadian 2-3-4-5 finish at the Nagano Olympics, with Jeremy Wotherspoon winning silver and Kevin Overland bronze, was the highlight of the men’s long track team in 1997-1998 season. Wotherspoon also won the overall World Cup titles over 500m and 1,000m and finished second overall at the World Sprint Championships winning medals in all four distances. He also came in third in the 500 m and second in the 1,000m at the World Single Distance Championships placing right behind fellow teammate Sylvain Bouchard in each distance. Bouchard won silver and gold in those two distances and set a World Record in the 1,000m in the process. Steven Elm had a breakthrough year on the all-round team winning the first World Cup medal in the 5,000m for Canada in many years and rewriting the Canadian record books in the process.

The 98-99 season was very successful as the athletes continued to do well on the international scene. Jeremy Wotherspoon won the overall World Cup titles over 500m and 1,000m and finished first overall at the World Sprint Championships. Michael Ireland finished 3rd overall in the 500 m World Cup final classification. Catriona LeMay Doan once again proved that her success is not due to chance. She finished 2nd at World Sprint Championships and she finished respectively 1st and 3rd for the 500m and 1,000m at both the overall World Cup standing and World Single Distance Championships.

During the 99-00 season, Canadian speed skaters showed that they would be serious contenders for medals at 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games. Jeremy Wotherspoon repeated his last season achivement to finish 1st overall in both the 500m and 1,000m at the World Cup and to win the World Sprint Championships. He also finished 3rd in the 500m at the World Single Distance Championships. Michael Ireland finished 3rd overall at the World Cup for the 500m and finished 2nd at the World Sprint Championships behind Jeremy Wotherspoon, to become vice-champion. He also finished 2nd in the 500m and 3rd in the 1,000m at the World Single Distance Championships. Catriona Lemay Doan finished 3rd in the 500m at the same competition.