Australia and Olympic Speed Skating
Speed skater Kenneth Kennedy was the first Australian Winter Olympian when he competed at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games in 1936. He competed in the 500m, 1500m and 5000m - placing 29th, 33rd and 33rd respectively.
In 1952, the brilliant reign of the colourful character Colin Hickey began. He sold newspapers to save enough money to buy his first pair of skates and took a ship to Norway at the age of 18 to train in the speed skating hub. He represented Australia at three consecutive Games; Oslo 1952, Cortina D’Ampezzo 1956 and Squaw Valley 1960. In 1956 he achieved Australia’s best Olympic result in the 500m and 1500m, placing seventh in both events.
Australia’s best performance later came from Colin Coates, a speed skater who had received training from Colin Hickey. At Innsbruck 1976 he finished sixth in the 10,000m. He also finished eighth in the 1500m, 10th in the 5000m, 11th in the 1000m and 23rd in the 500m. He was 29 years old and competing in his third Olympics. Colin Coates went on to represent Australia a record six times by Calgary 1988, finishing a 20-year Olympic career with his fastest time over 10,000 metres.
Sophie Muir made history at Vancouver 2010 as Australia’s first female speed skater. Sophie was an inline skater and switched to the ice at the age of 25 and produced huge results to be selected for Vancouver just over a year later. Sophie contested the 500m and 1000m, finishing 29th and 30th respectively.
Daniel Greig was Australia’s sole speed skater at Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018. Daniel had a character building Olympic debut in 2014 after he suffered every skater's worst nightmare when he fell in the opening seconds of his first 500m race - his pet event that he won a World Championship medal in just weeks before the Games – resulting in a 39th place finish. However he turned his performance around with a great 1000m race to finish 22nd.
A string of injuries post Sochi threatened to end Daniel's career. He bounced back for PyeongChang 2018 to improve on his 500m result from Sochi by 18 places, finishing 21st, and equalled his personal best result for the 100m, finishing 22nd.
Speed Skating, also referred to as Long Track Speed Skating, made its debut on the Olympic program for the first Winter Games at Chamonix 1924 and has remained on the program ever since. Women’s events were added to the program at the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley.
At the first Games there was also an event called the 'omnium' which did not involve a competition, but rather awarded a title to the skater with the best overall results in the four events. This event was dropped after the Chamonix Games. A men’s 1000m was added at Innsbruck 1976.
With the addition of the mass start event at PyeongChang 2018, Speed Skating now consists of 14 events (seven for men, seven for women) which are the 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m, mass start and team pursuit. Speed Skating has the most number of events at the Winter Olympic Games.
Speed Skating is held on a 400m oval rink with skaters racing in lanes and in pairs. Their times are recorded and the best times over the distance win the medals.
Men's and Women's 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m
All of these individual events are only skated once, with athletes competing in pairs all trying to achieve the best overall time.
The competition consists of two phases, the semi-finals and the final. Both men and women are set 16 laps to complete. During the race there will be four sprints - which end at the finish line after laps four, eight, 12 and on the final lap.
For each sprint, competitors will be awarded points that count towards the final ranking of the race. Points for the sprints will be awarded as follows:
- Intermediate sprints: first three skaters will gain: 3 – 2 – 1 points.
- Final sprint: first six skaters will gain: 60 – 40 – 20 – 10 – 6 – 3 points.
From each race the competitors will be ranked as follows:
- Firstly, by total number of sprint points gained.
- Secondly, by time at the finishing line after 16 laps.
- Thirdly, by number of laps skated (if not completing 16 laps).
Team pursuit has three competitors on each team that together race for eight laps. The team's time is determined by when the last of the three teammates crosses the finish line.
The racing features a crossover each lap in which racers change lanes, hence eliminating the advantage of drawing an inside berth. As you would expect, strict rules oversee these crossovers to ensure there is no interference. Turns are also common areas for interference. A skater who is interfered with during the race receives the option to skate the distance again.