Australia and Olympic Short Track Speed Skating
Australia has a great record in short track speed skating. At Lillehammer 1994, Australia won its first Winter Olympic medal with a bronze in the 5000m relay. The quartet of Richard Nizielski, Steven Bradbury, Andrew Murtha and Kieran Hansen made history when they finished behind Italy and the United States in the final.
For more than half of the 45 lap race there was nothing between the four squads. Then with twenty-one laps to go, a Canadian lost his edge and crashed into the side. At the twelve lap mark, the Italian 500 metre world recorder holder, Mirko Vuillermin accelerated, giving his team the winning break. It seemed that Australia would win silver, however the power of the United States team emerged and they raced away to finish second.
In 2002 in Salt Lake City, Bradbury at his fourth Games won Australia’s first Winter Olympic gold medal. In the 1000m the Queenslander took advantage of favourable circumstances. In the quarter and semi-finals, two competitors fell and the third was disqualified allowing him to sneak through to the final.
In the final, Bradbury dropped behind early and trailed the rest of the field by almost half a lap as they entered the last turn. A massive collision sent the other four finalists flying. As the only skater left standing, Bradbury crossed the finish line first and was awarded the gold medal.
Russian-born Tatiana Borodulina was Australia’s best performing skater at Vancouver 2010 although she fell short of the medals. She reached the B finals in both the 1000m and 1500m, with her best place being seventh in the 1000m.
Deanna Lockett was the best placed Australia short tracker at Sochi 2014, placing 9th in the women’s 1000m and 26th in the 1500m. Pierre Boda placed 30th in the men’s 500m on debut at Sochi.
Four years later Lockett returned to the ice for her second Games experience where she moved through to the semi-final of the 1500m, to finish 15th overall. Andy Jung made his Olympic debut at PyeongChang, finishing 24th in the men’s 500m and 16th in the 1500m.
Short track speed skating was a demonstration sport in 1988 when Great Britain’s Wilf O’Reilly won two golds. O’Reilly was of Irish and West Indian descent, an unlikely breeding ground for winter sports. It was officially introduced to the Olympic program at the Albertville Games in 1992. There was one individual and one relay event for both men and women. At Salt Lake 2002, men’s and women’s 1500m events were added to the program.
Races take place around an oval track (measuring around 111.12m) designed to fit inside an average ice rink. The bends are tight and “short trackers” skate close together counter-clockwise jockeying for position and trying to cover any attempted breaks with the pack. The odd clash and tumble are inevitable so the walls are heavily padded.
At the Olympic Games there are eight short track speed skating events. Although the aim is still to be the first across the line, speed takes a second place to tactics, especially in the heats.
Each individual event has 32 participants. Races feature four skaters at a time in a mass start. For the 500m and 1000m there are heats, quarterfinals, semifinals and an A and B final. The A final determines the medals and the B final positions 5 -8. For the 1500m there are heats, three semifinals and an A and B final.
A relay team comprises four members plus a reserve who can substitute in any heat or final. In general, skaters contest one and a half laps apiece in the relay and take multiple turns on the ice in any order. Changeovers can occur anywhere on the course by touch or push. There are eight teams in the relays contesting two semifinals and the top two teams in each advance to the final.