Pyeongchang 2018

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Five reasons to follow short track speed skating

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Victor An (L) of Russia celebrates winning the gold medal in the Short Track Men's 500m Final A on day fourteen of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.

Short track is for the pacemen and women of the Olympic world, akin to jockeys on ice jostling for their prime position. What’s not to like?

1. Usain Bolt on ice

It’s fast and furious, six skaters lining up on sheet ice to race each other around a 111-metre oval track with very little room for manoeuvre. The 500m event is the most explosive, with the competitors likened to Usain Bolt but with the added mayhem of slips and falls. The world record holders for that sprint distance are American J.R. Celski and Britain’s Elise Christie, both of whom will be in PyeongChang.

2. Tales of the unexpected

Expect the unexpected tends to be the motto for short track speed skating. You can’t push, block, trip or otherwise impede a rival on the ice but with the best will in the world, accidents happen. Take the case of Australian Steven Bradbury. He only made the 1,000m final at Salt Lake City in 2002 because of a pile-up and, despite being way off the pace come the final, he took the gold as the rest of the field were wiped out in the losing stages.

3. The pantomime villain

The sport may have its very own pantomime villain when it comes to PyeongChang 2018, in the form of Viktor Ahn. One of the greatest exponents of the discipline in the history of the sport, he won his first four Olympic medals competing for the Republic of Korea in 2006 under the name of Ahn-Hyun Soo. But following a fall-out with the powers that be in the country, he switched nationalities to represent the Russian Federation. Under his new name, he won three golds and a bronze on Russian territory at Sochi 2014. Ahn has said he expects some boos from the home crowd in PyeongChang.

4. Romance on ice

There is no shortage of romance on the ice between skaters. The aforementioned Elise Christie is in a relationship with Hungarian skater Liu Shaolin, who was crowned world champion over 500m in 2016 and is a five-time World Championships medallist. And one of Christie’s biggest rivals, Canadian Marianne St-Gelais is dating fellow Canadian skater Charles Hamelin.

5. Demonstration debut

Short track is also a relatively young sport within the Olympic family. It was introduced as a demonstration sport at the Olympic Winter Games Calgary 1988 where 10 titles were decided, although none of them having any impact on the medal table itself. Spare a thought for Wilf O’Reilly, the British skater who won both his disciplines but ended his career without an Olympic medal.


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