'14 Need To Knows: Long Track Speedskating

By Paul D. Bowker | June 27, 2013, 12 p.m. (ET)
Heather Richardson competes in the 1,000-meter race during the ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championships on Jan. 23, 2011 in Heerenveen, Netherlands.

Americans have long been captivated by the sport of long track speedskating, one of the granddaddies of the Olympic Winter Games, having been part of the program since the first Winter Games were held in 1924. Several of the most well-known U.S. Olympians made their names in the sport, most notably Eric Heiden, who captured five individual gold medals, and set four Olympic records and one world record at the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Winter Games. A long line of stars in the sport have come from the United States, among them Dan Jansen, Bonnie Blair, Chris Witty, Derek Parra, Joey Cheek, Casey FitzRandolph, Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis, and there are many Americans who hope to follow in that line in Sochi.

KING OF THE 1,000

 
Shani Davis poses for a portrait during the USOC promotional shoot
on April 23, 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif.

Shani Davis, who has competed in two Winter Games, has owned the men’s 1,000-meter race since winning it for the first time at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games, when he became the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal at an Olympic Winter Games. He has won gold in the 1,000 at the last two Winter Games and will likely be a favorite in that event at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. He is the first man to defend an Olympic title in the men’s 1,000. He won two medals on the Sochi Olympic ice at the 2013 ISU World Single Distance Championships, including bronze in the 1,000 and silver in the 1,500. He also is a two-time silver medalist at 1,500 meters. He has 53 career individual victories on the ISU Speed Skating World Cup circuit, and in 2012-13, he passed 10,000 points for his World Cup career, making him one of just three men to do so.

SPRINT CHAMPION AIMS FOR GOLD

A first-time Olympian at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, Heather Richardson is poised for a breakout Winter Games in Sochi. She is aiming to become the first U.S. women’s long track speedskating Olympic medalist since 2002, when Chris Witty won gold in the women’s 1,000 at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Richardson won the 2013 world sprint championship and also was the overall World Cup champion at 1,000 meters. A sprint specialist, she might skate in four events in Sochi: 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters, and the women’s team pursuit. Her impressive 2013 season included setting national records on three consecutive days at three different distances at the Utah Olympic Oval (which will be the venue for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials) and sweeping all five women’s distances at the U.S. Sprint National Championships.

HOOPS TO SKATES

Brittany Bowe built a memorable basketball career at Florida Atlanta University in Boca Raton, Fla. She is one of nine players in FAU history to reach 1,000 points in career scoring. Her 170 steals rank No. 7 on the school’s all-time list. She was named FAU’s Most Outstanding Athlete in 2010, her senior season. But that same year, 2010, is when she became truly hooked on an Olympic dream as she watched the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games on TV. A former world championship medalist in inline skating, Bowe has spent the last four years training in speedskating and is now not only in position to win a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team, but a strong medal contender in Sochi. She earned a bronze medal in the women’s 1,000-meter race at the 2013 ISU World Single Distance Championships held at the Olympic venue in Sochi. “When she puts her mind to something, she does it,” said Chancellor Dugan, Bowe’s former coach at FAU who now is the women’s basketball coach at the University of Louisville.

THE TRIALS

The U.S. Olympians for Sochi will be determined by the results in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Long Track Speedskating in late December in Kearns, Utah. The competition will be held Dec. 27 to Jan. 1 at the Utah Olympic Oval. The Trials will determine up to 20 roster spots: 10 men competing at 500-, 1,000-, 1,500-, 5,000- and 10,000-meter distances, and 10 women competing at 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-, 3,000- and 5,000- meter distances individually. In addition, three of those men and three of the women will compete in the team pursuit events.

TEAM USA QUALIFYING

Quota spots for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games will be filled during the 2013-14 World Cup season, based on the Olympic Qualification Classifications. The ISU qualifying times period begins July 1 and ends Jan. 13, 2014. Up to four U.S. athletes may compete in the men’s and women’s 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter races. A maximum of three may compete in the longer distance races: men’s and women’s 5,000, women’s 3,000 and men’s 10,000.

THE VENUE

Long track speedskating will be held at Adler Arena, which is located within the coastal cluster of facilities and arenas at Olympic Park. The arena has a seating capacity of 8,000 and has large triangular-shaped windows so that spectators can view the mountains through the north windows and the sea through the south windows. The competition track is a 400-meter oval. Adler has two competition tracks and also a training track. Adler Arena is located adjacent to the Iceberg Skating Palace, which will be host to the short track speedskating and figure skating competitions. Adler was host to the 2013 ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships in March.

Brittany Bowe competes during the 500-meer race at the Essent ISU
World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships at the Adler
Arena Skating Center on March 24, 2013 in Sochi, Russia.

DATES TO REMEMBER

Long track competition will be spread out almost the entire duration of the Olympic Winter Games, beginning Feb. 8, the day after the Opening Ceremony, and continuing through Feb. 22, the day before the Closing Ceremony. The men’s 5,000-meter races open the competition on Feb. 8, followed by the women’s 3,000 the next day. After the individual competition is held over 10 days, the women’s and men’s team pursuit will be held Feb. 21 and 22.

THE MEDALS

Thirty individual medals, plus two sets of team medals, will be handed out in long track at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, making a total of 36 medals. That is nearly double the amount of medals that will be handed out in short track speedskating. The United States won four medals at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, including a gold by Shani Davis in the men’s 1,000.

TEAM USA MEDAL CONTENDERS

No other winter sport has produced as many winter Olympic medals for the United States as speedskating. The total is now 85, including 10 won at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games (four in long track and six in short track). Expectations are high again for Sochi, following a 2012-13 World Cup season in which the United States won 27 World Cup medals and eight world championship medals. In addition to Richardson and Davis, long track medal contenders include Brian Hansen, a top 10 finisher in two races at the world championships and an Olympic silver medalist in the 2010 team pursuit, and Jonathan Kuck, another member of the silver-medal winning team pursuit event in Vancouver. Another Team USA athlete to watch is Emery Lehman, who just finished his junior year in high school and who earned a bronze medal in the 3,000 and a gold medal in the 5,000 in February at the World Junior Championships in Collalbo, Italy.

THE FORMAT

In each long track race, two skaters race along the 400-meter oval in outer and inner lanes. With each lap, the skaters switch lanes so that the distance is the same for each skater. The skater switching from the outside lane to inside has the right of way. This is unlike short track racing in which four skaters are on the course at the same time. Except for the 500-meter event, all long track races in Sochi will be run once. In the 500, athletes will race twice with the total time over both races determining the winners. In the popular team pursuit race, two teams of three skaters start at opposite sides of the track. The race ends when the last of the three skaters crosses the finish line. In the men’s team pursuit, the race consists of eight laps, or 3,200 meters. The women’s team pursuit is six laps, or 2,400 meters. Team pursuit was added to the Olympic Winter Games program in 2006.

THE FORCE IS WITH THEM

Because skaters are going so fast around the curves of the 400-meter oval, gravitational influences push them outward at a force of about 60 kilograms in the inner lane and 52kg in the outer lane. To counteract this, skaters lean at 45 degrees in the inner lane and 49 degrees in the outer lane.

A detailed shot of a pair of clap skates during the women's
1,000-meter skate at the M-Wave Arena during the Nagano 1998
Olympic Winter Games.

THE CLAP SKATES

The clap-skate blades used by long track skaters features a unique system in which the heel of the blade is not attached to the boot. Instead, the toe of the blade is attached to the boot with a hinged apparatus. At the end of each stride, this allows most of the blade to actually disconnect from the boot and remain on the ice surface longer to increase a skater’s pushing power and speed. When the blade has fully extended, a spring mechanism snaps, or claps, the blade back up to the boot. The technology for such a skate did not hit the international scene until 1997 when Dutch skaters introduced them. They were declared legal (although were quite controversial) for the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games, in which Dutch skaters won 11 speedskating medals including a 1-2-3 sweep in the men’s 10,000-meter race.

HISTORY LESSON

Long track speedskating has been part of the Olympic Movement since the first Winter Games, which were held in Chamonix in 1924. The first world championships in speedskating were held in 1889, and many of the early competitions were conducted outdoors. Today’s competitions are all held indoors with skaters wearing skin-tight suits in the interest of air resistance. At the Lake Placid 1932 Olympic Winter Games, an introduction of mass starts was initiated, leading to the boycott of the speedskating by several European countries. That start system led to the birth of short track speedskating, which made its Olympic debut in 1992.

COMMUNICATION VIA SKATES

How did speedskating start? According to Olympic.org, the IOC’s website, the Dutch used skating to communicate. When the canals were frozen in the winter, communication between villages as far back as the 13th century was accomplished by messengers skating over the canals from village to village.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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