speed skating

What to Know About Speed Skating at the 2022 Winter Olympics

Speed skating is one of six sports to appear in every Winter Olympics since its debut in 1924.

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Feel the need for speed?

Watch Olympic athletes circle the ice at more than 30 miles per hour as they race for gold in speed skating.

Speed skating is one six sports to appear in every Winter Games since the inaugural 1924 Chamonix Olympics. This year's events will be held at the recently constructed National Speed Skating Oval in Beijing. Nicknamed “The Ice Ribbon,” the stadium was built on the site of the field hockey venue from the 2008 Summer Olympics, and is the only new venue constructed in the original Olympic park in Beijing.

The United States has a few golden hopefuls on their roster, with three of them hailing from the same hometown of Ocala, Florida: Erin Jackson, Brittany Bowe and Joey Mantia.

“I guess there’s just something in the water down there,” said seven-time speed skating world champion Bowe.

Here’s everything you need to know about speed skating at the Beijing Winter Olympics. 

What are the different events in speed skating?

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There are seven events each for men and women at the Olympic Games. The objective in each is the same: finish as fast as possible. 

The speed skating events are held on a 400-meter oval and include the 500m (1 1/4 laps), 1,000m (2 1/2 laps), 1,500m (3 3/4 laps), 3,000m for women only (7 1/2 laps), 5,000m (12 1/2 laps), 10,000m for men only (25 laps), Mass start for men and women (16 laps), Men's team pursuit (8 laps) and Women's team pursuit (6 laps). 

There is one round per distance in individual events in long track speed skating, with skaters racing in pairs and the fastest time winning.

In the 16-lap mass start event, which was added for men and women in 2018, up to 24 skaters race simultaneously, with first three racers to cross the finish line awarded medals. "Sprint points" are also awarded to the leading three skaters at the top of each quarter in the race, which takes place after laps 4, 8, 12 and the final sprint. The racers who do not make the podium are then ranked by the number of points they win during the race, rather than the order they cross the finishing line.

The team pursuit features two teams of three skaters each competing head-to-head in single-elimination races. The winning time is determined by when the third skater in a team crosses the finish line. The competitions are held in three phrase: quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.

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.

What is the equipment used in speed skating?

Most crucial, obviously, is the skate itself. 

The skate features a blade that is connected to the shoe by a binding device. The steel blades, ranging from 40 to 48 centimeters, are longer and straighter than those used for hockey or figure skating in order to allow for long strides, and have very little curve. The boots are made of carbon fiber leather and custom molded to the racer's foot for a tight fit. Many racers opt not to wear socks while racing in order to get a better feel for the skates. 

Racers wear skin-tight racing suits with an aerodynamic hood and thumb loops to minimize air resistance, as well as goggles to keep their eyes from tearing in the wind.  

What is the history of speed skating?

Skating originated over 1,000 years ago in Scandinavia and the Netherlands when people used bone skates made of polished shank or rib bones to cross frozen rivers and lakes. Over the centuries, blades evolved from wood to iron, and finally in 1850, to steel.

The first known speed skating club was the Skating Club of Edinburgh, in Scotland, and the first speed skating competition is thought to be a 15-mile race held on the Fens in England on February 4, 1793. The first official long track speed skating event took place in Norway in 1863. Three years later, the International Skating Union (ISU) was founded in the Netherlands.

Speed skating is one of six sports to appear in every Winter Olympics since its debut in 1924. Women's events were added to the Olympic program in 1960. The team pursuit debuted in 2006 and the mass start, a head-to-head race over 16 laps, is the newest event added to the program after debuting in 2018.  

Which country has the most medals in speed skating?

Dutch speed skaters have earned 121 medals for the Netherlands, and lead the world with the most gold (42), silver (40) and bronze medals (39). 

The Netherlands took home 16 medals during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, marking the sixth consecutive Winter Games in which the country was atop the speed skating medal count. Over the last two Olympic Winter Games alone, they have won the majority of speed skating gold medals (15 of 26) and half of total speed skating medals (39 of 78).

Norway has the second most overall with 84 medals, followed by the United States with 68. Team USA also boasts the second-most gold medals with 29.

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