Beginners Guide to Olympic Short Track Speed Skating

27 January 2014 / 11:02

Unlike traditional speed skating, short track was only officially recognised by the International Skating Union in 1967 and did not hold a World Championships until 1976. It was to feature at a Winter Olympics for the first time 12 years later at Calgary 1988, initially on the programme as a demonstration event before earning full status at Albertville 1992.

Short track grew as an offshoot from speed skating as mass-start events became more popular and has been out-growing its predecessor in terms of popularity since appearing at the Olympic Games. North American and Asian nations have dominated the sport at the Olympic Games since Albertville 1992 – namely the USA, Canada, South Korea and China. Those four nations between them account for 104 of the 120 Olympic medals that have been handed out, with South Korea leading the way with 37 and counting.

China’s Wang Meng is the most successful Olympic short track speed skater having won four gold medals – three at Vancouver 2010 and one at Turin 2006 – as well as an additional bronze and silver. American Apolo Anton Ohno is the most decorated short track speed skater with eight medals – two golds, two silvers and four bronzes – spanning three Games.

Meanwhile, Team GB have won one Olympic short track speed skating medal since Albertville 1992, Nicky Gooch claiming bronze in the 500m at Lillehammer 1994.

But perhaps the most famous medallist of all is Australia’s Steven Bradbury, who became the first person from a southern hemisphere nation to win a Winter Olympic event at Salt Lake City 2002. Racing in last place in the final of the 1000m on the final lap, Bradbury had simply to avoid the debris to grab gold after all of his rivals crashed out in a pile-up on the final bend.

And it is that fast-paced dramatic action that has kept the sport on its upward curve since its official arrival at the Olympic Winter Games 22 years ago.

In short track multiple competitor’s race around an oval shaped track 111.12m in circumference in an anti-
clockwise direction. The rink itself is 60m long and 30m wide, which is the same size as an international standard ice hockey rink.

The Olympic programme was expanded from four events at Albertville 1992 to six at Lillehammer 1994 and then eight from Salt Lake City 2002 onwards.

The individual events are the same for both genders with the 500m, 1000m, 1500m contested in addition to two relays – 5000m for men and 3000m for women.

Racing for all events begins in a mass start and there are no designated lanes so the fast-paced action results in frequent collisions with the first man or woman over the line declared the winner.

However, with no set lanes there are a number of ways that that a racer can be disqualified during the race as they compete for position around each bend.

These range from false starts to impeding or blocking an opponent as well as skating off the track although team skating, where competitors from the same country conspire to determine a result, is now not illegal.

The 500m and 1000m events begin with 32 skaters and heats of four with the first two to cross the finish line advancing to the quarter-finals, then semi-finals with the medal race contested by the final four.

The 1500m begins with 36 skaters and heats of six with the first three to cross the finish line advancing to the semi-finals, of which there are three and where the top two in each progress to the final.

The relay events see eight teams of four athletes first divided into two heats of four with the top two advancing to the final.

Teams agree among themselves the number of laps each athlete should skate  but don’t have to reveal the specifics to other nations or race officials. The last two laps do however have to be covered by the same person.