Don't know anything about speed skating? No problem. Here are all the basics you need to know before the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea are right around the corner! That means it's time to watch sports you might not have seen in four years. To help you feel at least a little more informed—either to impress your friends or fake your way through a conversation with an actual expert—SI will be providing rookie's guides to each of the 15 sports. These will be published daily, Monday through Friday, from December 4-22.
Speed skating is one of the easiest Winter Olympic sports to understand because of its parallels to track and field, with competitors making their way around a track as fast as possible. Here's everything you need to know (and more) about following speed skating at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang.
What’s going on during an event?
There are 14 speed speed skating events. Both men and women compete in the 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m, mass start and team pursuit. The women also compete over 3000m and the men race 10,000m.
During most races, skaters race counterclockwise, in pairs, against the clock, on a 400-meter oval (just like an outdoor track!). Skaters trade lanes every lap in order to equalize their respective distances covered. After they race against the clock, their time is converted into a point system, which takes into account their performance over a given distance. The skating order is determined by a draw and skaters are placed into four groups based on their individual rankings and results from World Cup races. A random draw designates the lanes, inner or outer, and the starting order for each group.
During team pursuit races, two teams of three skaters race to get all three skaters across the finish line.
One of the more interesting aspects of speed skating at the upcoming Olympics is the addition of the 16-lap mass start. A maximum field of 24 skaters takes off at the same time and the winner is determined by “sprint points.” The scoring system awards those who cross the first, second and third skaters during three intermediate sprints. After the last sprint, the first, second and third skaters to cross the finish line will gain enough points to allow for the first three across the line to be the medalists in the event. The rest of the field are ranked by the sprint points accumulated during the race and then their order of finish. The Olympics have only featured a mass start race one other time, back in 1932.
How is it different from short track speed skating?
As you can gather from the name, the main difference is the track length. A short track is typically 111.12 meters. Because of the size, there are some tweaks in the blades, equipment, strategy and technique used by skaters to manage the corners.
Long track speed skating events typically have one round per distance. The only exception is the men’s and women’s 500 meters, which will take the combined times of two races.
Who are the favorites?
Official favorites won't be known until the each country's qualifiers and rosters are decided in the coming weeks. You can count on the Netherlands to put on a show. The country holds the record for the most Olympic medals won in history with 105. Thirty-five of those are gold, which is also a record. They won 23 medals in speed skating at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Dutch have finished atop the medal table or tied for the most medals at the last five Winter Games. The United States is looking to rebound after leaving Sochi with no medals.
How did the sport come to be?
The sport has its roots as a method of transportation across frozen lakes and rivers in Scandinavia and the Netherlands in the 17th century. The Dutch eventually adopted speed skating as their national sport and that partly explains why it remains a powerhouse on the global championship level. The first world championship was held in 1989 and featured the the Netherlands (hosting), Russia, England and the United States. Speed skating debuted in the 1924 Olympics in Chamonix. Women’s competition was added in 1932 as a demonstration sport and then included in the Olympics for the 1960 Games.
How do you qualify?
The U.S. Olympic team will be determined after the Olympic Trials in Milwaukee, Wisconsin from January 2-7. Up to three athletes in each event can go to PyeongChang.