Speed skating

From New World Encyclopedia

Speed skating (also long track speedskating or long track speed skating) is an Olympic sport where competitors are timed while crossing a set distance. Sports such as short track speedskating, inline speedskating, and quad speed skating are also called speed skating.

Speed skating emphasizes speed at the shorter distances and endurance at the longer distances. An individual and relay sport, it is known to challenge both body and spirit, requiring great physical and athletic ability and the ability of the racer to manage pain.

Long track speed skating enjoys large popularity in the Netherlands, and has also had champion athletes from Austria, Canada, Finland, Germany, Japan, Italy, Norway, South Korea, Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and the United States. Speed skaters attain maximum speeds of 60 km/h (37 mph) during the shorter distances.


ISU development

Jaap Eden, the first official world champion.

When skates were introduced to the world more than 3000 years ago in Scandinavia, they were used as a way of transportation. The people of the Netherlands used skates to travel over canals and other water ways, and are still considered the most hardcore, avid skaters in the world by many. The first known skating competition transpired in 1676. After this event, more and more people started to skate competitively.

Organized races on ice skates first developed in the nineteenth century with the first official speed skating competition occurring in 1863, with races in the town of Kristiania (modern day Oslo, Norway) drawing five-digit crowds.[1]

In 1884, the Norwegian Axel Paulsen was named Amateur Champion Skater of the World after winning competitions in the United States. Five years later, the Netherlands hosted the first World Championships with participants from Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom as well as the host country.

The Internationale Eislauf Vereinigung, now known as the International Skating Union, was founded at a meeting of 15 national representatives in Scheveningen in 1892, the first international winter sports federation. The Nederlandse Schaatsrijderbond had been founded in 1882,[2] and had organized the world championships of 1890 and 1891.[3]

Early on, competitions were held around tracks of many varying lengths. In 1885, the well known match between Axel Paulsen and Remke van der Zee was skated on a track of 6/7 miles (1400 meters)–but the 400 meter track was standardized by ISU in 1892, along with the standard distances for world championships, 500 m, 1500 m, 5000 m, and 10,000 m. Skaters were to start in pairs, each to their own lane, and changing lanes for every lap to ensure that each skater completed the same distance. Competitions were exclusively for amateur skaters, and these rules were applied: Peter Sinnerud was disqualified for professionalism in 1904, and lost his world title.

World records were registered since 1891, and improved rapidly: Jaap Eden lowered the world 5000 meter record by half a minute during the Hamar European Championships in 1894. The record stood for 17 years, and it took 50 years to lower it by further half a minute.[4]

Elfstedentocht and Dutch history

The Elfstedentocht was organized as an outdoor skating competition in 1909. In its early years it was held at irregular intervals whenever the ice on the course is deemed good enough. Other outdoor races developed later, with Noord-Holland hosting a race in 1917, but the Dutch natural ice conditions have rarely been conducive to skating. The Elfstedentocht has been held 15 times in the nearly 100 years since 1909, and before artificial ice was available in 1962, national championships had been held in 25 of the years between 1887, when the first championship was held in Slikkerveer, and 1961. Since artificial ice became common in the Netherlands, Dutch speed skaters have been among the world top in long track speed skating and marathon skating.

The Elfstedentocht is an event that is at the top of any Dutch sporting event. 16,000 participants were a part of the last race, and millions are known for following the event otherwise known as the eleven cities tour. It was officially organized by the Friesian Skating Association though its roots go back generations before that. Many famous stories come from the race over the years including one about Karst Leemburg, the 1929 winner who had to have his frostbitten toe amputated.

The 1997 race was organized with two days notice because of a large Russian cold front that froze over the Netherlands. Despite the virtually impossibility of the event happening, many volunteers came together to make the race happen. The skaters started before sunrise, forcing them to follow the course only by the light spectators supported them with. A farmer by the name of Henk Angenent won the race in 6 hours, 49 minutes and 18 seconds, with stragglers having to be picked up off the ice by police cars later that night.

Another solution to still be able to skate marathons on natural ice is the Alternative Elfstedentocht. The Alternative Elfstedentocht races take part in other countries like Austria, Finland or Canada and all top marathon skaters as well as thousands of recreative skaters travel from outside the Netherlands to the location where the race is held. According to the NRC Handelsblad journalist Jaap Bloembergen, the country "takes a carnival look" during international skating championships, despite the fact that "people outside the country are not particularly interested."[5]

Olympic Games

At the 1914 Olympic Congress, the delegates agreed to include long track speed skating in the 1916 Olympics, after figure skating had featured in the 1908 Olympics. However, World War I put an end to the plans of Olympic competition, and it wasn't until the winter sports week in Chamonix in 1924—retrospectively awarded Olympic status—that ice speed skating reached the Olympic program. Charles Jewtraw from Lake Placid, New York won the first Olympic gold medal, though several Norwegians in attendance claimed Oskar Olsen had clocked a better time.[1] Timing issues on the 500 m were a problem within the sport until electronic clocks arrived in the 1960s; during the 1936 Olympic 500 meter race, it was suggested that Ivar Ballangrud's 500 meter time was almost a second too fast.[1] Finland won the remaining four gold medals at the 1924 Games, with Clas Thunberg winning 1,500 meters, 5,000 meters, and all-around. It was the first and only time an all-around Olympic gold medal has been awarded in speed skating.

Norwegian and Finnish skaters won all the gold medals in World Championships between the world wars, with Latvians and Austrians visiting the podium in the European Championships. At the time, North American races were usually conducted packstyle, similar to the marathon races in the Netherlands, but the Olympic races were to be held over the four ISU-approved distances. The ISU approved the suggestion that the 1932 Olympic speed skating competitions should be held as packstyle races, and Americans won all four gold medals. Canada won five medals, all silver and bronze, while defending World Champion Clas Thunberg stayed at home, protesting against this form of racing.[1] At the World Championships held immediately after the Games, without the American champions, Norwegian racers won all four distances and occupied the three top spots in the all-around standings.

In 1960, Women's speed skating events were added to the Olympic Games in Squaw Valley, California.Lidiya Skoblikova, won gold metals that year in the 1,500 m, and 3,000 m competition. She holds the record for the largest margin of victory in the 1,500 m at 2.9 seconds.

Norwegians, Swedes, Finns and Japanese skating leaders protested to the USOC, condemning the manner of competition, and expressing the wish that mass start races were never to be held again at the Olympics. However, ISU adopted the short track speed skating branch, with mass start races on shorter tracks, in 1967, arranged international competitions from 1976, and brought them back to the Olympics in 1992.

Women's competitions

In the 1930s, women began to be accepted in ISU speed skating competitions. Although women's races had been held in North America for some time, and competed at the 1932 Winter Olympics in a demonstration event, the ISU did not organize official competitions until 1936. However, Zofia Nehringowa set the first official world record in 1929. Women's speed skating was not very high profile; in Skøytesportens stjerner (Stars of the skating sport), a Norwegian work from 1971, no female skaters are mentioned on the book's nearly 200 pages, though they had by then competed for nearly 30 years. The women's long track speed skating was since dominated by East Germany and later reunified Germany, who have won 15 of 35 Olympic gold medals in women's long track since 1984.

Technical developments

A skater in full body-covering suit.

Artificial ice entered the long track competitions with the 1960 Winter Olympics, and the competitions in 1956 on Lake Misurina were the last Olympic competitions on natural ice.

The clap skate, a new type of skate which came into wide use in the 1990s.

More aerodynamic skating suits were also developed, with Swiss skater Franz Krienbühl (who finished 8th on the Olympic 10,000 m at the age of 46) at the front of development.[1] After a while, national teams took over development of "body suits." Suits and indoor skating, as well as the clap skate, has helped to lower long track world records considerably; from 1971 to 2007, the average speed on the men's 1500 meters has been raised from 45 to 52 km/h (28 to 32 mph). Similar speed increases are shown in the other distances.


After the 1972 season, European long track skaters founded a professional league, International Speedskating League, which included Ard Schenk, three-time Olympic gold medalist in 1972, as well as five Norwegians, four other Dutchmen, three Swedes, and a few other skaters. Jonny Nilsson, 1963 world champion and Olympic gold medalist, was the driving force behind the league, which folded in 1974 for economic reasons, and ISU also excluded tracks hosting professional races from future international championships.[1] The ISU later organized its own World Cup circuit with monetary prizes, and full time professional teams developed in the Netherlands during the 1990s, which led them to a dominance on the men's side only challenged by Japanese 500 m racers and a couple of American all-around skaters.

The rink

Skaters race on a two-lane oval similar in dimension to an outdoor athletics track. Indeed, an athletics track covered with ice can function as a speed skating track, such as Bislett stadion in Oslo up to the 1980s. According to the rules of the International Skating Union, a standard track should be either 400 m or 333⅓ m long; 400 m is the standard used for all major competitions. Tracks of other, non-standard lengths, such 200 or 250 m, are also in use in some places for training and/or smaller local competitions. On standard tracks, the curves have a radius of 25–26 m in the inner lane, and each lane is 3–4 m wide.

Top international rinks

These rinks have hosted international events (World Cups or international senior championships) between 2004 and 2007.



  • Chuncheon National Ice Sports Centre, Chuncheon, South Korea
  • Circolo Pattinatori Pinè, Baselga di Pinè, Italy
  • Ludwig Schwabl Stadion, Inzell, Germany
  • Machiyama Highland Skating Center, Ikaho, Japan
  • Ritten Kunsteisbahn, Collalbo, Italy


All races are held in pairs, for which two lanes on the track are used. Skaters wear bands around their upper arm to identify which lane they started in. The colors are white for inner lane and red for outer lane. At the back straight, the skaters switch lanes, which causes them both to cover the same distance per lap. When both skaters emerge from the corner at the exact same time, the person currently in the inner lane will have to let the outer lane pass in front of him.

Occasionally, quartet starts are used for the pragmatic and practical reason of allowing more skaters to complete their races inside a given amount of time. This involves having two pairs of skaters in the lanes at the same time, but with the second pair starting when the first have completed approximately half of the first lap. The skaters in the second pair will then wear yellow and blue arm bands instead of the usual white and red.

When skating the Team pursuit, the two teams of three team members start at opposite sides of the oval. In marathon races there is usually a mass-start.


There are primarily two types of skates, traditional ice skates and the clap skates. In long track speedskating, only clap skates are used in competition above recreational level. The clap skates were introduced around 1996, and were a revolution in that they are hinged to the front of the boot and detach from the heel, allowing the skater a more natural range of movement. This enables a longer stroke while keeping maximum contact with the ice. By the 1998 Winter Olympics, nearly all skaters used clap skates.

Both use long and straight blades compared to many other ice skating sports. Blades are about 1 mm thick and typically come in lengths from 13 to 18 inches (33–45 cm). Most competitive athletes use lengths between 15 and 17 inches (38-43 cm), depending on body size and personal preference.

A lot of attention is given to air resistance. The rules demand that the suits follow the natural shape of the body, preventing the use of for example, drop shaped helmets (as seen in cycling) or more inventive "Donald Duck" costumes. However, a lot of time and money is spent developing fabrics, cuts and seams that will reduce drag. Some skaters use low (no thicker than 3 mm) "aerodynamic strips" attached to their suits. These are intended to create turbulent flow in certain areas around the body.

Competition format


One of the oldest skating formats is the all-around event. Skaters skate four distances and a ranking is made up based on the times skated on all of these distances. The method of scoring is the same for all combinations. All times are calculated back to 500 m times, so skating the 500 m in 40 seconds gives 40 points, while 1500 m (3×500 m) in 2 minutes (120 seconds, equivalent to 3×40 s) also gives 40 points. Points are calculated to 3 decimal places, and truncation is applied, the numbers are not rounded. The skater who has the fewest points wins the competition. This system is called samalog. An all-around champion may often not have won a single distance—such as Viktor Kosichkin in the 1962 World Championship—or he may win three distances but lose the overall title. Originally, three distance victories won you the championship, but the rules were changed after Rolf Falk-Larssen beat Tomas Gustafsson at the 1983 World Championship despite having more points than Gustafsson.

Sprint championships

The sprint championships are two-day events where skaters run the 500-m and 1000-m on both days. The samalog system is again applied to crown the winner. To counter any systematic bias regarding inner versus outer lanes, skaters change start lanes from the first day to the second. Nations with active skaters arrange annual national sprint championships, and the ISU arranges annual World Sprint Speedskating Championships, for men and for ladies, since 1970. While there are annual European (All-around) Speedskating Championships, no such championships are arranged for the sprinters.

Single distances

A more basic form of speedskating consists of skating a single event. This is the format used for the World Single Distance Championships, which have been arranged since 1996, and the World Cup. The usual distances are the 500 m, 1000 m, 1500 m, 3000 m (ladies only), 5000 m, and 10000 m (men only), but some other distances are sometimes skated as well, such as 100 m and 1 mile. Women occasionally but rarely are given the possibility to skate the 10,000 m, but outside the top-level championships.

The 500 m is usually skated with two runs, so that every skater has one race starting in the outer lane and one in the inner. This practice started with the first of the World Single Distance Championships in 1996, and with the 1998 Nagano Olympics; at all earlier Olympics 1924–1994, the 500 m was skated only once. The reason for skating this distance twice is that there is a small but statistically significant average advantage of starting in the inner lane; negotiating the last curve at high speed is typically more difficult in the inner lane than in the outer lane.

In addition to international championships, the International Skating Union has organized the Speedskating World Cup since the 1985–86 season. The World Cup works by ranking skaters by cumulative score during the season, for each distance separately, at specially designated World Cup meets. More specifically, there is for each season a World Cup competition for the 500 m, 1000 m, 1500 m, and combined 5,000 m and 10,000 m, for men; and for the 500 m, 1000 m, 1500 m, and combined 3,000 m and 5,000 m, for the ladies. There have been suggestions of making a grand total World Cup ranking by suitable aggregation of scores across distances, but such a ranking system has not yet been organized. Speed skating is thus the only individual sport with a season-long World Cup not to crown one World Cup winner at the end of each season.

Team pursuit

The team pursuit is the only team event in top-level long track speed skating and is skated by teams of three skaters. Two teams race at a time, starting at a line in the middle of the straightaway. One team starts on each side of the track. Only the inner lane is used, and the distance is eight laps for men and six for women.

There are several formats for the team pursuit. The Olympic format is unusual in that it is a cup format, with several rounds of exclusion between two teams. In the World Cup and World Championships, one race is skated and the teams are ranked by their finishing time. In the Olympic format, a team that overtakes the other has automatically won the race and the remaining distance isn't skated. In practice, the distance is so short that this rarely happens unless one team has a fall.

The team pursuit is a new event in major international competitions. Similar events have been skated for years on a smaller scale, but was not considered an "official" ISU event until around 2004. It was introduced at the Olympics in 2006.


Skaters skate in a large group and they skate large distances. When conducted at an ice rink oval, the distance is usually around 40 km, akin to the traditional marathon in running. When skated outdoor on natural ice, the distances can be as long as 200 km. An example of this is the famous Elfstedentocht (Eleven cities tour) which is irregularly held in the Netherlands. An example of a famous marathon outside the Netherlands is the International Big Rideau Lake Speed Skating Marathon in Portland, Ontario, Canada.

Influential speed skaters

Ard Schenk

Ard Schenk was a dominant dutch speed skater who won a sliver metal in the 1968 Olympic Games and three golds in the following games in 1972. He also won the world all-around championships and won all four distances, something that had not been accomplished for forty years. He is considered by experts and fellow speed skaters as being one of the best in the history of the sport. Schenk broke 18 world records throughout his career and retired from the sort as one of the best of all time.

Eric Heiden

Eric Heiden is an American former long track speed skater who won all the men's speed skating races, and thus an unprecedented five gold medals, and set 4 Olympic records and 1 world record at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York, United States. His victories are significant as few speed skaters (and athletes in general) have won competitions in both sprint and long-distance events. He is considered by some to be the best overall speedskater (short and long distances) in the sport's history. During his short speed skating career, Heiden won 3 World Allround Championships and 4 World Sprint Championships. He broke the world record three times, in the 1,000 meters, twice in the 3,000 meters, and once each in the 1,500 meters and 10,000 meters. He also broke the points world record in both allround and the sprinting distances.

Bonnie Blair

Bonne Blair is a retired American speedskater who is known as one of the most popular female athletes in the history of the Olympic Games. Bonnie competed in four Olympics for the United States and won five gold metals and a bronze metal during the four games. She increased the popularity among females in the United States and won several awards for his efforts including the 1992 James E. Sullivan Award, the 1992 Oscar Mathisen Award (the first female winner of this award), the 1992 ABC's Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year, and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year, along with Johann Olav Koss, in 1994. She also was Female Athlete of the Year as selected by the Associated Press in 1994.

Dan Jansen

Dan Jansen is best known for winning a gold medal in his final Olympic race after suffering through years of heartbreak. Inspired by his sister Jane, Dan Jansen took up speedskating while growing up in Wisconsin. He set a junior world record in the 500 meter race at the age of sixteen, and finished sixteenth in the 500 meters and fourth in the 1,000 meters at the 1984 Winter Olympics. At the 1988 Winter Olympics, Jansen—having become World Sprint Champion one week before the Olympics—was a favorite for the 500 and 1,000 meter races, having improved in the years between Olympics, while overcoming a case of mononucleosis in 1987. However, in the wee hours of the day of the race, he received a phone call saying that Jane was dying of leukemia. He spoke to his sister, who was unable to respond. Later that morning, he was informed that she had died. He bravely went on to compete that night in the 500 meters, but fell early in the race. A few days later in the 1,000 meter race, he began with record-breaking speed but fell again. He left the 1988 Olympics with no medals, but he became the recipient of the U.S. Olympic Spirit Award for his valiant efforts through tragedy.

Jansen arrived at the 1992 Winter Olympics as a favorite yet again. A year before, he had set a world record in the 500 meters among his other accomplishments. But disaster struck again, as he finished fourth in the 500 meters and twenty-sixth in the 1,000 meters. So once again, Jansen left the Olympics with no medals.

In 1994, Jansen won his second World Sprint Championships title and the 1994 Winter Olympics were Jansen's final attempt to win an Olympic medal of any kind. Between the 1992 and 1994 Olympics, he had the distinction of being the only man to break 36 seconds in the 500 meters, doing so four times in those years. In the 500 meters, he finished eighth, and he went into the 1,000 meters under the assumption that he would end his career without any Olympic medals. However, coached by the 1976 Olympic Champion on that same distance, Peter Mueller, he won his first and only Olympic gold medal of his career, setting a new world record in the process, and he dedicated his gold medal to his late sister. For his efforts, Jansen received the 1994 James E. Sullivan Award.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 (Norwegian) Åge Dalby, Jan Greve, and Per Jorsett, Olympiske vinterleker 1924–2006 (Akilles forlag 2006, ISBN 8272861623), 29.
  2. (Dutch) KNSB, Wat is Langebaanschaatsen. Retrieved December 24, 2007.
  3. Skate Results, A short history of world championships.
  4. (Norwegian) Knut Bjørnsen and Per Jorsett, Skøytesportens stjerner (J. W. Cappelens forlag 1971), 183.
  5. NRC, Less orange during the uneven years. Retrieved December 24, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bergeland, I. 1998. Olympiske vinterleker: 1924-1994. Gyldendal Fakta. ISBN 8205251908.
  • Brimmner Dane, L. 1997. Speed Skating. Children's Press. ISBN 0516262068
  • Publow, B. 1999. Speed on Skates: A complete Technique, Training and Racing Guide for In-Line and Ice Skaters. Human Kinetic Publishers. ISBN 0880117214.

External links

All links retrieved February 7, 2023.


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