Speed Skating is a form of racing which is done over a specific ice course. It’s basically competitive ice skating where the competitors race each other while traveling a certain distance. This activity started as a form of transportation over icy terrains. However, with time it evolved into a Winter Olympics sport. There are several different variations of this sport. Long track speed skating is the one we are talking about in this article.

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Welcome to Speed Skating

The sport became part of the Olympic Games as early as 1924. It would have been included earlier but World War I delayed the process. Speed skating is controlled by the International Skating Union (ISU). It’s the oldest federation compared to any other winter sport. The ISU was founded in 1892 and it has been organizing competitions for this sport ever since. For more information, check their official website.

History of Speed Skating

The history of speed skating can be traced back over a millennium. Natives in Scandinavia, Netherlands, and Northern Europe were the first ones to use this activity as a form of transportation. They would add bones to their shoes and use them to travel on frozen rivers, canals and lakes. However, while this might have been true for Northern Europe, it wasn’t for the Netherlands. Winters there don’t get so cold for the lakes to freeze. This means that speed skating was always an activity of joy and sports.


In 1763, the world saw its first official speed skating race, on the Fens in England organized by the National Ice Skating Association. Towards the end of the 19th century, the sport became popular in North America as well. The all-steel blade skates were actually invented there. Still, the Netherlands wanted to show that they are the pioneers of this sport. That’s why they created the ISU in 1892. By the start of the 20th century, skating and speed skating had come into its own as a major popular sporting activity.

Rules & Equipment

The rules of speed skating depend on the track size for the race. They are divided in two: short track and long track.

Short Track

The short track races are run counter-clockwise on a 111 meter track. However, short track races are almost always run in a mass start format in which two to six skaters may race at once. There are several things that a skater can do which will get him disqualified. For instance, false starts, impeding, and cutting inside the track. However, if a skater is disqualified, the race will count him as if he finished last.

Long Track

Speed skating races are run counter-clockwise on a 400-meter oval. This type of speed racing can be an individual as well as a team event. In the individual form only two skaters can be racing at once. They must change laps for every turn. Skaters can get disqualified for the same things as in short track. However, If a skater misses their race or falls they have the option to race their distance again. Long track doesn’t have a final where the first one through wins. All rankings are set by time.

The non-individual event in speed skating is known as team pursuit. Two teams of each three to four skaters are allowed to race at once. Both teams remain in the inner lane for the duration of the race; they start on opposite sides of the rink. If four skaters are racing one skater is allowed to drop off and stop racing. The clock stops when the third skater crosses the finish line.


The most important equipment for speed skating are of course the skates. However, they are different to the ones that are used for figure skating or hockey. Speed skates cut off at the ankle and are built more like a shoe than a boot to allow for more ankle compression. The blades on the skates can be from 30 to 45 cm long. The length depends on the height and the age of the skater.

Additionally, skaters require a spandex skin suit, protective helmet, specific cut proof skating gloves, knee pads and shin pads (in suit), neck guard (bib style) and ankle protection. All of this is mandatory for short track skating. Moreover, the skaters must wear protective eye-wear at all times. All skaters who race at a national level must wear a cutproof kevlar suit to protect against being cut from another skater’s blade.

However, when it comes to long track, the equipment requirements are much lower. Those skaters don’t need to wear a helmet, shin pads, knee pads, neck guard or protective eye-wear. The suit also does not need to be kevlar. Long track skaters wear a hood that is built into the suit.


As we mentioned above, the International Skating Union is in charge of organizing speed skating competitions. The ISU organizes a World Cup for long track skating. That’s the version that is most popular and that has been a part of the Winter Olympics since 1924. However, short track skating has been increasing in popularity in the last couple of decades. Starting from 1992, that event also became part of the Olympic program. The reason for the rise in popularity is due to the fact that short track speed skating can be done on an ice hockey rink. Contrary to that, the long track skating requires a different long-track oval rink.

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