Pyeongchang 2018

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Sport guide – Short Track Speed Skating: hustle, bustle, thrills and spills

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Dajing Wu of China leads the pack in the Short Track Men's 500m Semifinals on day fourteen of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Iceberg Skating Palace on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

There are few Olympic sports as exhilarating as short track speed skating.

While many events pit an athlete against the clock, short track is a good old-fashioned rumble of a race: packed with hustle, bustle and dramatic falls, last-minute overtaking and photo finishes. It’s as exciting as sport gets.

First included as a demonstration event at the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games, the experiment was a big hit with crowds, and incorporated as an official sport for the first time for Albertville 1992.

The simplicity of the event means anyone can enjoy it: athletes start together on the line of a 111.12m track in a 60 x 30m ice rink (it’s not as long as the speed skating track, hence its name); the winner is the racer who crosses the line first.

There are three individual distances for both men and women: 500m, 1000m and 1500m, plus a 3000m relay event for women and a 5000m relay for men. Four athletes contend the two shorter distances, while six to eight can make up the field in the 1500m and relays.

In the qualifiers, only two or three athletes from each race can move forward to the next round.

Short track is a sport for tacticians and thinkers: unlike speed skating, it’s not always the most powerful athlete that wins. Technique, bravery, cunning and agility are all required – and making the right move at the right time can be the difference between gold, silver and bronze.

Inevitably, like crashes in Formula 1, it’s the risk of pile-ups that gives the action an extra frisson – but it’s not a fight out there. Some bodily contact is permitted, but pushing or blocking is not allowed, and will lead to an entrant’s disqualification or their position eliminated in a final.

At PyeongChang 2018, the event will be held at the Gangneung Ice Arena. This state-of-the-art facility opened in December 2016 and has a capacity of 12,000.

The action begins on 10 February, when the men’s 1500m gold medal will be decided, and there are medals on every day of action: 13 February (women’s 500m), 17 February (women’s 1500m, men’s 1000m), 20 February (women’s 3000m relay) and 22 February (women’s 1000m, men’s 500, men’s 5000m relay).

The expectation of the home crowd should make for an electric atmosphere: the Republic of Korea are the world’s most successful Olympic short track nation, having won the most medals (37) and most golds (19) of any country. It’s their best hope of glory this time round, too.

 

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