Speed skating has always been fascinating to watch, as solo or teams of skaters starting on opposite sides of the track try to edge ahead of their opponents, lap after lap. But it lacks the rough and (literally) tumble of short track, in which rivals rub shoulders and race to the same finish line.
Until PyeongChang 2018, that is. Speed skating is one of the sports with a new discipline for the Olympic Winter Games: the mass start. This involves up to 28 skaters racing over 16 laps, starting together and with a fully open track (in regular speed skating, racers change between inner and outer lanes).
During the race there are sprints every four laps. The first three athletes through these intermediate points win five, three and one point respectively. In the final sprint, 60, 40 and two points are awarded.
The first three athletes to cross the finish line end up getting gold, silver and bronze. All other skaters are ranked based on points given out for the sprints.
Staying ahead of the rest Almost time for #WCSpeed Anyone else excited? ☝️ #SpeedSkating Francesca Lollobrigida of Italy leads the pack in the Ladies Mass Start during day 2 of the ISU World Cup Speed Skating at Soermarka Arena on March 12, 2017 in Stavanger, Norway. (Photo by Joosep Martinson – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)
The race, totalling 6,400m, is one suited to endurance athletes rather than sprinters. With space on the rink limited, tactics are vital, with both staying power and a fast finish required to register a victory.
At PyeongChang 2018, the men’s and women’s events will be held at the Gangneung Oval, within the Gangneung Ice Arena, on 24 February.
This state-of-the-art facility has a capacity of 8,000 and was opened in January 2017. Within two months it was hosting the 2017 World Speed Skating Championship, which included the mass start. Joey Mantia of USA won gold in the men’s, while Republic of Korea’s Kim Bo-reum took the ladies’ title on home ice.
Former inline skater Mantia said it is a welcome addition to the speed skating programme. “Everything is pretty much freestyle, like short track,” he said. “In long track, everything is on your own. It makes time trials really hard. The mass start is a little more in my wheelhouse.”