Short Track

what is short track

Short-track speed skating is a sport where racers skate on an oval-shaped track with a length of 111 meters. It is one of two major disciplines of speed skating, the other being long-track speed skating. In short-track, skaters usually start the race in “packs” of four to eight skaters, as opposed to the long-track style where two skaters start on opposite sides of the track. Short-track has been a permanent Olympic sport since 1988, after a one-year appearance and subsequent hiatus in 1932. Read on to learn all about short-track speed skating.

  • Description: A sport in which several athletes race a certain number of laps around a 111-meter speed skating track
  • Founded Date: 1905
  • Governing Bodies: International Skating Union (ISU)
  • Countries: Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Sweden, United Kingdom, USA
  • Regions: Asia, Europe, North America, Oceania
  • Categories: Winter Sports, Racing Sports, Olympic Sports, Ice Sports


Short-track speed skating first became popular in North America as an evolution of the European long-track races in the late 1800s and early 1900s. After the first long-track world championships in 1889 in the Netherlands, short-track was developed in Europe to allow races to be held on regular-size ice rinks. 

This new style of short-track was exported to America and Canada, where it soon became more popular than long-track. The central reason for short-track’s success in North America was the fact that there were precious few 400-meter-long tracks in operation, meaning that it was very difficult to find a venue in North America to train for long-track events. It was much easier for speed skaters to use normal ice rinks to train, leading to the popularity of short-track.

The first official competitions with mass starts were held in 1905, demonstrating that the new short-track discipline had come a long way. Elements of short-track skating were present at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY. At this event, racers started in packs but still skated on a long track (400 meters). Afterward, European countries complained about the mass start system, and the event subsequently reverted to the classic time trial version that is still used in long-track today.

After 1932, open short-track competitions among many countries were held, although short-track was not recognized by the International Skating Union (ISU) until 1967. After being officially added to their roster, the ISU held the first official World Championships in 1976. The sport was finally added back to the Olympics as an official event in 1992 and has become one of the most popular events at the Games. It is exciting to watch due to its fast pace and potential for dramatic finishes, as well as the ever-present danger of a crash. 


Since it was added, the most prestigious and important competition for short track skaters has been the Winter Olympics every four years. The first Winter Olympic medal in short track speed skating was won by Kim Ki-Hoon of South Korea. Also, since 1976, the annual World Championships have been held by the International Skating Union. This is considered the most prestigious competition outside of the Olympics. The ISU also organizes the World Cup, which is a series of competitions over the course of the season.

In these major competitions, there are races for several different distances as well as relay events. Ubiquitous races include the 500, 1000, and 1500-meters for both men and women. A 5000-meter relay is a popular men’s competition, while the women compete in a 3000-meter relay. In the World Cup, there is also a mixed-gender relay race. 

Famous Short Track Skaters

In recent years, speed skaters from China and South Korea have begun to dominate the Olympic events, with South Korea winning six Gold medals at the 2006 Games in Italy. With short track speed skating increasing in popularity, there have also been several skaters who have become celebrities in their home countries and around the world.

The most legendary short track speed skater is Apolo Anton Ohno, the American skater from Seattle, Washington. One of America’s most famous Winter Olympians, Ohno accumulated an incredible eight total medals, including gold medals in the 500-meter and 1500-meter. He competed in the 2002, 2006, and 2010 Olympics. He then moved on to compete on Dancing with the Stars as well as serving as a TV commentator for speed skating at the 2014 and 2018 Olympics. 


How does short track work?

Short-track speed skating races begin with a “mass start” and then race each other a specified number of laps around a 111-meter track. This differs from long-track, where skaters skate time trials around a 400-meter track and do not start en masse. Common distances for short-track are the 500-meter, 1000-meter, and 1500-meters. There are also 3000-meter and 5000-meter relay races.

Is short track an Olympic sport?

Yes, Short-track speed skating has been an official Olympic sport since 1992. Although the speed skating competition at the 1932 Olympics contained elements of the short-track discipline, these innovations were dropped until 1988 when short-track was added back as a demonstration sport for the Calgary Games. After much positive fan and athlete reaction, the Olympic Committee decided to include short-track as an official event in 1992, and it has remained on the program ever since.