Short Track Speed Skating 101

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Short track speed skating is a form of competitive ice speed skating that attracts many of our inline racing champions. This is an Olympic racing sport where multiple athletes are timed directly against each other while skating as a group on an oval ice track. The sport originates from the pack style events held in North America, was officially sanctioned in the 1970s and became an Olympic sport in 1992.

  • These events are skated on Olympic sized hockey rinks
  • Short track skaters race counter-clockwise
  • Pack, group or mass starts are used for short track speed skating
  • Short track events consist of both individual and relay races
  • Elimination races reduce the field of skaters until the final round of competition
  • Short track is sometimes called NASCAR on ice

Although this form of speed skating is newer, it is growing faster than long track speed skating. Short track has become an integral part of the Games, and short track spectators really enjoy the speed and intense competition between the athletes.

The Short Track Speed Skating Rink

The sport is described as "short track", because a 111 meter oval on a hockey-sized rink is used, as opposed to the 400 meter oval used in long track skating. In competitions, multiple skaters (typically between four and six) skate on an oval ice track with a circumference of 111.12 meters. The rink itself is 60 meters by 30 meters, which is the same size as an international-sized hockey rink.

Racing with a Mass Start

Short track skating is group start racing on a smaller rink than long track uses. Distances skated are also shorter than in long track racing, with the longest Olympic short track race being 1500 meters. 

Short track events are skated as eliminations. After the group start, each skater uses strategies to be the one to cross the finish line first. The winner is determined by who crosses over first – not by the timing of the skate. Disqualifications and falls are not unusual.

Individual competitions consist of 32 skaters participating in heats of four athletes per heat.The top two finishers from each group will advance to the next round. These elimination rounds continue until the final four are selected to compete for the medals.

The relay involves eight teams of four skaters each with each team selecting the number of laps each athlete will skate. The last two laps are not optional and must be skated by the same skater unless there has been an injury. The two top teams from each semi-final advance to the final round.

The events are the same for both men and women: 500 meter, 1000 meter, 1500 meter and the relay (5000 meter for men and 3000 meter for women).  Eight sets of short track medals are presented.

The Short History of Short Track

Short track speed skating originated in the speed skating events held with mass starts – although at the 1932 Winter Olympics, all speed skating events were conducted in the mass start form. This form of speed skating was mainly practiced in the United States and Canada, as opposed to the international form, where skaters skated in pairs. Competitions in North America were also held indoors, and therefore on shorter tracks than was usual for outdoor skating.


In 1967, the International Skating Union adopted short track speed skating.


The ISU did not organize international short track competitions until 1976. 


World Championships with short track events have been held since 1981, although earlier events may have that status.


At the 1988 Winter Olympics, held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, short track was a demonstration sport.  


In 1992, short track speed skating was upgraded to a full Olympic sport even though it had little following in the long track speed skating countries of Europe. It has been part of the Winter Olympics since. 


The short track program was expanded from four in 1992 to eight in 2002. 

Short Track Skating Equipment

Short track skates are custom made individually to fit the sole of the foot and the ankle for each skater. Short track boots are constructed from custom foot molds with strong materials that can stabilize the foot and ankle during cornering. These boots lace higher on the ankle than traditional racing skates, too. The sharp blades are 40 to 46 cm long, and they are curved at an arc that matches the direction of the track curves for cornering. These blades are also mounted off-center to the left, so the skater's boot clears the ice when the skater leans into corners.

 Each skaters hands are protected by stiff gloves that are worn to protect skaters' hands from the blades when the hand touches the ice for balance.

Short track skaters wear helmets made from firm plastic to prevent head injuries from crashes with other competitors, ice or the side walls of the rink.

Specially designed skinsuits are tight and mold to the skater's body to reduce wind resistance.

Knee, shin, and sometimes neck guards offer protection from the blades of the skater in front. Knee, elbow, and neck guards offer additional protection from injury.

Goggles are not required, but many skaters wear them for eye protection from wind and ice. The goggles may also have tinted lenses to increase visibility and reduce glare.


Ice Speed Skating 101

All of the speed skating sports demand balance, speed and agility. In the years following the Olympic ice performances of Joey Cheek, Jennifer Rodriguez, Chad Hedrick and other inline skaters, it has been very common for inline speed skaters with Olympic aspirations to try trading their big wheels for sleek blades. Let's learn more about the ice skating sports that many of our brightest and best are moving into:

More Speed Skating Information:
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