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An early mode of transport and a disco link – five things to know about speed skating

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 22:  Denny Morrison, Mathieu Giroux and Lucas Makowsky of Canada compete during the Men's Team Pursuit Final B Speed Skating event on day fifteen of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at  at Adler Arena Skating Center on February 22, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Speed skating dates back about 1000 years

In Scandinavia and Europe, people began attaching bones to their shoes and skating on rivers and other frozen bodies of water, to make it easier for them to get around in winter weather. Interest in racing eventually grew, and speed skating evolved into a sport. A metal blade was created in Scotland in the 1500s and the first speed skating competition was held in England in 1763.

Fast and furious

Speed skaters can really fly across the ice, hitting speeds exceeding 50 kph (30 mph) and reaching up to 65kph (40mph). They need a special blend of core strength, strong leg muscles and stamina to perform well – similar to downhill skiers. Their cross training workouts include dry land exercises such as biking, weight lifting and Pilates.

An Olympic debut in 1924, with short track added in 1992

Short track takes place on an ice hockey rink, making it easier to practise than speed skating, which is done on a specially designed 400m oval. Speed skating tends to be dominated by the North Americans and European countries that have oval rinks. The Republic of Korea have performed particularly well in short track since 2010. Women’s events were added in 1960, the same year refrigerated (instead of natural) tracks came into use.

The American roller skating craze 

In the late 1970s, roller skating became popular along with disco music in the United States. The fad only lasted a few years into the 80s, but was “in” long enough to get people interested in speed skating, as there was no Olympic roller skating competition.

Short track and long track skates are built very differently

Speed skates look nothing like figure or ice hockey skates; they resemble shoes. The short track skate has a blade fixed to the boot in two places, while the speed skating skate only attaches to the boot at the front. This style is known as the clap skate, and allows the skater to employ the same motion between the toe and the heel a runner would use. The blade runs 42-46 centimetres (16-18 inches) long.


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