Speed skating is one of the purest tests of fitness in winter sports, contested by athletes with similar physical abilities to middle-distance runners.
Like timed cycling events in the Olympic velodrome, it’s all about pacing laps correctly in order to post the fastest time against an opponent who starts on the other side of the 400m track. The result is an elegant, exciting battle for supremacy, which has been enjoyed at every Olympic Winter Games since the very first one, Chamonix 1924.
Men and women compete over 500m, 1000m and 1500m. In the longer distances, there is 5000m and 10,000m for men, while women race 3000m and 5000m.
Both genders also take part in the team pursuit, in which two teams of three athletes complete eight laps for men, and six laps for women. A timing is taken when the third competitor crosses the line, making it a true test of teamwork.
Get Ready for a new event
New for the 2018 Games is the mass start. This event bears a similarity to short track, as skaters race directly against each other. The difference here is the longer circuit, and the expected starting field of up to 28 competitors, which makes for fast and furious stuff.
At PyeongChang 2018, the event will be held at the Gangneung Oval, within the Gangneung Ice Arena. This state-of-the-art facility, opened in January 2017, has a capacity of 8,000.
The medal days for speed skating are 10 February (women’s 3000m), 11 February (men’s 5000m), 12 February (women’s 1500m), 13 February (men’s 1500m), 14 February (women’s 1000m), 15 February (men’s 10,000m), 16 February (women’s 5000m), 18 February (women’s 500m), 19 February (men’s 500m), 21 February (pursuit finals), 23 February (men’s 1000m) and 24 February (mass start).
A look back
Speed skating has historically been dominated by the Netherlands, who have 105 medals, 35 of them gold. USA, Norway and Russia are also traditionally strong.
In Sochi the Netherlands put in an overwhelming performance, winning eight of the available 12 golds and 23 of the total 36 medals. They are highly likely to top the list again this time around, but look out for some powerful performances from Republic of Korea’s skaters in front of the partisan home crowd, too.