Speed Skating

What Is Speed Skating

Speed skating is one of the oldest and longest-standing Olympic sports. It is a fast-paced, mostly individual racing sport, that has been present in one form or another since the 14th century. Read on to learn all about speed skating, including its long history, its rules, and its greatest champions.

  • Description: Speed skating is a racing sport in which competitors wearing ice skates aim to complete a course in the fastest time.
  • Founded By: People in the Netherlands
  • Founded Date: 14th century, became an Olympic sport in 1924
  • Governing Bodies: The International Skating Union (ISU)
  • Countries: Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Netherlands, England, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Korea,  Sweden, United States, Yugoslavia
  • Regions: Europe, Asia, North America
  • Categories: Activities, Sports, Winter Sports, Individual Sports, Team Sports, Non-Contact Sports, Olympic Sports, Skating Sports

Speed Skating History

The first speed skaters were most likely born out of necessity, as 14th-century people constructed skates of bones and leather to cross iced-over bodies of water in the Netherlands. Now, speed skating is a well-loved Winter Olympic sport in which skaters from across the world compete to record the fastest times. The first recorded place where speed skating became competitive was in the Netherlands in 1676. A track was built in Oslo, Norway in 1863, allowing for organized speed skating competitions, and the sport began to break into the factions we know today of speed and figure skating

Speed skating eventually developed into two major schools: long track speed skating and short track speed skating. Speed skating has withstood the test of time in a way that few other sports have. In fact, speed skating made its Olympic debut at the inaugural 1924 Games in Chamonix, France, and it is one of only six competitions that appeared in the very first Winter Olympics that has proceeded to appear every year since. The United States Speed Skating team has proved particularly successful, winning gold in the Chamonix in 1924 and continuing to receive 91 more Olympic medals in the sport.

Speed Skating Rules and Objectives

Speed skating competitions take place in a 400m rink where skaters race around until crossing the marked finish line for their event. As a racing sport, the objective is simple: be the first skater to finish the race. In the Winter Olympics, there are a variety of long track speed skating competitions, all with the same ultimate goal but differing in distance.

The Olympics holds long track speed skating competitions at 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 3000m (for women), 5000m, 10000m (for men), and mass start and team pursuit events for both men and women. Most of the speed skating events in the Olympics are completed individually, but the team pursuit events are relay races

With the exception of the mass start event, athletes skate two by two when it is their time to race. These skating groups are arranged based on individual rankings, the best eight skaters put in Group 1, the second best eight in Group 2, and so on. Each skater is timed to the 1/100th second, and the skater with the best time out of all groups wins the event.

Speed Skating Champions

In a sport so old and foundational to the Winter Olympics as we know them now, there are naturally many decorated long track speed skating champions. One of the most impressive speed skating Olympic performances of all time came from Eric Heiden, who not only won all five speed skating events but set records in each event in 1980. Heiden, of Madison, Wisconsin, returned to the United States, eventually going on to become an orthopedic surgeon. 

Sven Kramer, of the Netherlands, has the most Olympic medals in speed skating history, with nine. In 2022, Erin Jackson brought the gold medal in 500m speed skating home to the United States, becoming the first black woman to win a speed skating event.


How Does Speed Skating Work?

Long track speed skating is played on a 400m ice rink, but the distances skated are longer than 400m. Typically races last from 500m to 10000m, and athletes are tasked with lapping around the rink until the race is complete. In long track speed skating, athletes compete two at a time, times are recorded as each skater crosses the finish line, and the lowest time after all competitors have finished the course is awarded the winner.

Who Created Speed Skating?

Speed skating began as a means of survival for 14th-century people in the Netherlands. These pioneers couldn’t have imagined they would one day be named integral in creating a sport when they fastened blades made of bones to their leather boots in order to cross icy lakes and rivers. Over the years, skating moved from a means of necessity into a hobby and a sport, spreading across Europe until the first speed skating competition was held in England in 1793.

Is Speed Skating An Olympic Sport?

Yes, both long track and short track speed skating are Olympic sports. Although the objectives of long and short track speed skating are very much the same, gameplay between these two types of skating is much different. The more popular and traditional form of speed skating is long track speed skating. Long track speed skating has been in the Olympics since the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924 and for every Winter Olympics since. Speed skating is one of only six sports to be able to boast this longevity. Short track speed skating joined the Olympics much more recently in 1988.