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Winter Olympics: The Differences Between Speed Skating and Short-Track

ByScotty Jenkins

Published on Wed Dec 08 2021


6 min read

Winter Olympics: The Differences Between Speed Skating and Short-Track

Speed skating is an exciting sport and it is one of the sports that the Olympics features. Speed Skating and short track speed skating are different.

Long-Track and Short-Track are two different disciplines in the wider sport of Speed Skating. The International Olympic Committee recognizes the Long-Track events as just "Speed Skating" and it has been a Winter Olympic event since the Chamonix games in 1924.

Part of the reason the long-track event is known by that name in international competition is because Short-Track Speed Skating is a much newer discipline. Short Track wasn't introduced to the Olympics until the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville.

Both Short-Track and Speed Skating are governed by the International Skating Union, which also governs worldwide competitions in Figure Skating and Synchronized Skating. Other long-distance ice skating sports like Tour Skating, Ice Cross Downhill, and Barrel Jumping are popular, but are not Winter Olympic sports. - What are the Winter Olympic Sports article.

While there are a number of similarities in the history of Speed Skating and Short-Track events, there are obviously some pretty glaring contrasts in either type of race. Below, I will outline a number of them to help you decipher and enjoy each sport in the upcoming Winter Olympics - including the track sizes, the rules, the difference in equipment, and more.

To help differentiate between the two disciplines in the rest of this article, Speed Skating will be referred to as "Long-Track" or Long-Track Speed Skating.

Long-Track Rinks Are Much Bigger

The major difference that separates these two sports is the distance of the track. Similar to Track & Field, speed skating events are held on a track, this one made of ice, and require athletes to skate laps around it as fast as possible.

For Long-Track events, the track is 400 meters in length. The track has two lanes painted on an oval rink very similar in size to an outdoor running track. In fact, the oval rinks feature two straightaways of 100 meters and two semicircle curves of 100 meters like the outdoor track at your high school or college. Outside of Olympic competition, you may see ice rinks of smaller sizes used for different types of races and junior competitions.

Short-track speed skating events are held on an ice rink just over a quarter of the size of Long-Track events. Short-track ovals measure 111.12 meters. The rink is actually the same dimensions as an international-sized ice hockey rink and there are no lanes painted on the ice.

You can get a glimpse at the training regiment for short-track skaters and try it for yourself in the US Speedskating Short Track Challenge.

Different Amount Of Skaters On The Track

The number of skaters on the ice during a race is another easy way to tell the difference between the sports.

In Long-Track Speed Skating, only two skaters are on the track at either time and they are each starting in a separate lane. Each skater wears an arm band to show which lane they started in. A red band is worn by the skater in the outer lane and a white band is worn by the skater in the inner lane.

Short-track races are much more crowded. Between four and six skaters compete in each race and none of them are confined to a lane. Skaters start on the same line together at the same time and race in laps until they reach a certain distance.

Both Long-Track and Short-Track Speed Skating have relay events where more skaters will be on the ice. But, the skater will be alternating between who is racing so the extra skaters are only temporary during the shifts.

Four skaters may also be seen in a Long-Track event but this is usually only done to qualify a large group of skaters at a competition. Once two skaters have gone halfway around the track, two other skaters will start to keep a safe distance and save time between qualifying laps.

Short-Track Rinks Do Not Have Lanes

A major part of a long-track race between two skaters is the lanes they are in. Signified by their arm bands, each skater has a lane that will need to be in during different sections of the race. On the back straight - or the straightaway furthest from the finish line - skaters will alternate lanes to make the lap distance equal for each of them. Both skaters go through the turns in a straight line before alternating again on each straight portion.

Short-track rinks do not have any lines, so from the start skaters can move anywhere in an effort to pass the skater in front of them. Two types of penalties can be called against a skater to make up for the lack lanes - "impeding" and an "off-track" penalty. Impeding is when a skater purposefully pushes, blocks, or trips another skater. Off-track penalties are called when a participant leaves the designated track altogether.

Long-track has similar penalties but there is much less opportunity for skaters to touch each other across the wide lanes.

Different Ways To Determine A Winner

Each event has a very different focus on the rules because skaters in each event has a different goal. Yes, the competitors in each are trying to skate as fast as possible but the way they are officiated and measured is very different.

Long-track competitors are not necessarily racing each other. They are racing the clock. Long-track is a time-trial event While the winner will be the fastest skater, of course, two skaters in the same heat could both advance.

Short-track races on the other hand are a much more straightforward objective. Each skater is competing against everyone else on the ice. For example, everyone starts together at the same start line and skates as hard and fast as they can for as many laps as it takes to complete the race distance. The first skater to cross the finish line is the winner.

Each Sport Uses A Different Type Of Skates

Because the tracks are very different in size and short-tracks have much tighter curves, the skates used in each sport can be very different. and 40 to 55cm for speed skating.

For the many tight turns in short-track speed skating and the smaller strides used on the straights, a shorter skate is used that measures 30 to 45 centimeters. This shorter blade makes it possible for skaters to use short strides around the turns.

Short-track skates are also usually made with a stronger material to help skaters maintain the low trajectory and bend as they speed around the corners.

Long-Track Speed Skating on the other hand is all about the long strides. Because the track has long straights and wider turns, skaters use skates that measure as much as 15 centimeters longer than short-track skates. These allow skaters to build up speed with each stride and glide around the long turns with fewer pumps.

Long-track boots are also more flexible and use a “clap” fixture with a hinge system that allows athletes to lift their heels. Because they can lift their heels without their blades leaving the ice, skaters can stride for much longer in long-track races.

Long-Track Skaters Are Usually Much Taller

The shape of the track in each sport also determines what type of athlete is able to succeed in either sport.

Due to the number of turns in short track, it is better for athletes to have a low center of gravity as they are leaning into each curve. In fact, athletes are moving so quickly around the curves that they need to lean in and put a hand on the ice to maintain balance.

For example, Viktor Ahn, who won eight medals including six golds in short track for the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation is just over five-feet-tall and former female gold-medalist People’s Republic of China’s Wang Meng around 5.5-feet-tall.

But in speed skating, it is usually taller athletes who find success. This is due to the longer tracks and the emphasis on stride length, leading taller skaters with longer legs to exert less energy across each straight.

A four-time Olympic speed skating champion, Sven Kramer of the Netherlands, is over 6-feet-tall, while his female counterpart, five-time gold medalist Ireen Wüst, is 5.5-feet-tall.

No matter your height, though, each sport is a great option for athlete willing to train. You can check out a typical USA Speedskating workout for Long-Track skaters in the US Speedskating Challenge and Short-Track skaters in the Short-Track Challenge.

Short-Track Skaters Wear Helmets

And Long-Track skaters don't. That is another one of the major differences a casual viewer might find when they turn on the Winter Olympics.

In Short-Track, athletes wear helmets because they have a higher risk of falling than in Long-Track.

Speed Skating and Short-Track Speed Skating events are two different events. And this article listed some of the differences between them. You should also check out this article on what speed skating means here.

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