Winter Olympics 2018: A beginner's guide to the explosive sport of short track speed skating at the Pyeongchang Games

Short track (or indoor) speed skating started in North America due to the lack of 400m-long tracks, which were generally used in speed skating. So, in Canada and USA they adopted mass-start events on a shorter track which was similar to the winter sport of speed skating. This shorter version is now simply known as “short track”.

Short track is also a racing event on ice won by the skater who has the fastest time. However, often it’s the smartest, not the fastest, skater which emerges victorious. The shorter track makes strategy and the start more significant than in speed skating, while the synchronised movements and long strides make for a really elegant sight.

File photo of a short track speed racing event in USA. Reuters

File photo of a short track speed racing event in USA. Reuters

Olympic sport since: 1992

Categories: Short track speed skating is an umbrella term that encompasses four men's and women's races each — 500m, 1,000m and 1,500m; and relay (5,000m for men and 3,000m for women).

Top contenders: Russia’s Victor An, the most decorated short track speed skater, will be unable to compete at Pyeongchang after Russia's team was banned over systemic doping, and failed to overturn the decision in court.

South Korea’s Choi Min-jeong, who at 19 years will be making her Olympic debut, and Shim Suk-hee carry the host nations’ hopes. Also in the short track mix are North Koreans Choe Un Song and Jong Kwang Bom, and Maame Biney, the sport's first female African-American Olympian.

Netherlands’ Dylan Hoogerwerf is another top contender among the men.

Event schedule: 10 to 22 February

Medals at stake: 8

How does it work?

Each race takes place on an oval track of ice that is 111.2 meters long, while the entire sheet of ice is 60 meters long and 30 meters wide.

The winner is the first athlete who crosses the finish line but the sport requires more technique than power, more agility than durability.

For the 500m format, both men and women take four and a half laps of the rink. This is a fast sprint where the start is crucial. For the 1,000m, the athletes need to finish nine laps and the emphasis is on sprinting capabilities and tactics.

In the 500 and 1,000m format, there are heats in which four skaters compete at one time. In the first round, there are eight heats and a total of 32 skaters. The top two finishers from each heat move on to the quarter-finals and the same format is followed again in the semis.

At the end of the semi-finals, the top two finishers from both heats advance to the "A" final, while the bottom two go on to skate in the "B" final. The finishing order of the four skaters in the "A" final determines the medallists, while the "B" final determines who finishes fifth to eighth.

This is what a typical race looks like:


For 1,500m, the male and female skaters race for 13 and a half laps, but this format needs stamina and strategy to win. The format for the 1,500 is a little different as the field features 36 skaters, with six of them racing at the same time.

In addition to these three distances, the men participate in a 5,000m four-man relay (45 laps in all) and the women compete in a 3,000m four-woman relay (27 total laps).


As the competition for short track speed skating involve a lot of athletes racing on a short track, it allows for some bodily contact, but pushing other athletes or blocking them is regarded as an infringement and can lead to disqualification.

The athletes can also be disqualified if they race off track; provide any physical assistance to another skater; lose or do not have proper equipment; and for false starts.

In the relay event, there is a special rule that is only followed in short start – unlike all other track and field relay events, here the baton can be exchanged at any point during the race between the four members, except for the last two laps, which must be completed by one person.

Field of play:

Short track speed skating involves a mass start and an all-out dash to the finish on a reduced course the size of an ice-hockey rink. The track is 111.12m in length while the dimensions of the ice rink are 60x30m.

At Pyeongchang, the short track speed skating events will be held at the Gangneung Ice Arena.

Equipment required:


The blades on the skates are modified to maintain high speed and control on turns. The blades for short track are extremely sharp and are bent in at an arc that mirrors the direction of the turn. They are also placed off-center to the left so the boot does not touch the ice when the skater leans into the turn.


Short track boots are constructed from fiberglass, graphite and Kevlar, using customized foot molds to help the athletes stay stable around the corners.


Short track skaters may touch the ice with their hands for stability on the turns. Hence, their gloves have ceramic caps on the fingertips to help them slide along the ice.

Helmet and protective wear

A padded hard shell made of plastic is worn by the skaters to prevent any potential head injuries. The skaters also wear knee, shin and sometimes neck guards made of Kevlar for protection against other skaters’ blades. The suit that they wear is made of a synthetic material moulded to the athlete’s shape.

Updated Date: Feb 09, 2018 19:45 PM

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