2014 Olympic Preview: Speed Skating

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Speed Skating in the Olympics can be come of the most exciting and grueling sports to watch and are some of the most popular sports in the Olympic program. This is especially true for a handful of countries that find many of their medals in these sports. It is a theme in the winter Olympics as the sports are much more limiting than in the summer. There are only a few countries that have the facilities to train at an Olympic level with the facilities to train many times limited to the former Olympic hosts. This can mean that many countries do not get the opportunity to train with the best equipment and facilities. Meanwhile the top coaches would prefer to coach athletes in great facilities rather than traveling or making due. So the top countries remain the top countries and many of them find themselves being great at the same sports year after year. It is a big reason as to why the Winter Olympics are not as popular as there are countries that are left out. It can limit the games and can be frustrating for many winter Olympic countries but it can also make for some great surprise stories. It can be those athletes that continue to dominate or those athletes that surprise everyone by beating the dominant athletes that could grab the headlines this year. Still one of the major stories will always be these dominant countries that will once again look to make sure that they remain at the top of their sport. There are the skiers from Austria, the cross-country skiers from Norway, the curlers from Canada and Britain, the snowboarders from the USA, and the Germans in Bobsleigh. For speed skating it has been the South Koreans and the Dutch that have dominated for years. In the short track the South Koreans have been one of the best teams winning medals ahead of some more traditional winter sport countries. In the long track the Dutch have seen year after year go by with their best sitting at the top of the podium. Both of these countries will look to do the same this year as they hope to win multiple gold medals for their countries. To get these medals these teams will have to master the stamina of long track and the speed of short track. Speed skating features two different sets of sports that feature two very different disciplines. On one end is the short track that features speed and close quarters racing and in the other is long track that highlights distance racing. To win the gold athletes will have to master these styles in one of the biggest events in the Winter Olympic program.

 

Short Track

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First Year:
1992 (Demonstration Sport in 1988)
Most Medals: South Korea, 37 (19 Gold)

It is one of the younger sports in the Winter Olympics as it only started in 1992 but it has quickly become a fan favorite. In the USA and Canada short track was used as an alternate to the longer version in Europe. With few facilities to race in the longer track the USA and Canada would begin their own version in hockey arenas. Using a smaller track and a mass start the North American sport would begin to catch on and would become an international sport in 1932. The Olympics would test the sport in 1988 and eventually make it a full part of the Olympic program in 1992. Since that moment it has been one of the most popular sports in the Winter Olympics. The speed and chaos of Short Track speed skating is one of the most thrilling things to see in the Winter Olympics. Skating at high speeds with 4-8 skaters on a rink turning corners together and many times running into each other. There are a number of different lengths of the races that these athletes participate in to win that gold. There are individual races of 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m, and 3,000m where all skaters race to be the first across the line. Short Track also feature relay races of 3,000m for women and 5,000m for men where 8 teams race with four racers for each team that race various numbers of laps based on their strategy. The tight quarters make Short Track a bit chaotic as racers are regularly bumped and knocked around. Many times racers will even be taken out of the race entirely and disqualifications are also very common. Short Track Speed Skating is a thrilling sport in the Winter Olympic program and as it continues to grow the competition gets better. It is no longer a sport for Canadians and Americans as many other countries have taken the lead in many distances. All of these athletes will try to get through the chaos of the races to come out on top and win the gold medal for their country.

 

Who to Watch:
Victor Ahn (Russia)
– He has been one of the best short track speed skaters in the world for a long time and will now compete for the home country after becoming a Russian citizen in 2011 and dominating the 2014 European Championships

Arianna Fontana (Italy)
– In 2010 she won the bronze medal for the 500m and is only getting better as she looks to make an impact in Russia as she looks to become an Olympic champion after a successful 2014 campaign so far winning the 500m European Championship earlier in January

Suk Hee Shim (South Korea)
– She has been one of the best racers in the women’s side and won the gold in the 1,500m in the most recent world championship as she looks to carry the dominance of the South Koreans into another Olympic Games

Canadian Content:
Charles Hamelin (Levis, Quebec)
– He is one of the best bets to win a gold medal for Canada as he looks to defend his Gold medal in the 500m race and hopes to lead team Canada to another Olympic Gold in the relay as the only Canadian to win multiple Gold medals in the Vancouver Olympics

Marianne St-Gelais (Saint-Felicien, Quebec)
– One part of the best couple on the Canadian Olympic team the wife of Charles Hamlin makes her own way on the ice inning a silver medal in the 500m in Vancouver and hoping to improve on that by taking home a gold this year

 

Long Track

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First Year:
1924
Most Medals: Netherlands, 82 (27 Gold)

It is the older brother of Short Track Speed Skating as it would begin at the very start of the Winter Olympics. It would start in Northern Europe simply as a way to get around during the winter. Travelling the frozen rivers and canals in Northern Europe to get from place to place would be common for the people in the region. That way of moving would turn into an Olympic Sport and in the 1924 Winter Olympics. The sport highlights the ability to work through pain of skating long distances that would make normal people break down. It is a sport that requires massive concentration to make sure that the technique is spot on for very long distances. If concentration breaks and an athlete makes one misstep or breaks technique for a split second it can mean the difference between a medal and 4th place. It is a tough sport and one that takes great athletes to put themselves through the ringer to try to win a medal. You can see it every time that an athlete finishes their race and doubles over trying to catch their breath. Where the true challenge comes is when the lactic acid builds up in a skaters legs and tries to slow them down but they battle through to keep going. At the Olympics these skaters will race at the Adler Arena complete with a 400m track. Skaters race at multiple distances in head to head races with the first to pass the finish line moving on to the next race until the medal races. The Men race distances of 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m, 5,000m, and 10,000m while women race at distances of 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m, 3,000m, and 5,000m. There are also Team Pursuit events where teams of three skaters race laps, 8 for men and 6 for women, while switching positions between each other to draft the other skaters. Speed Skating will once again show the determination of athletes to push through everything to win a medal as the Sochi Olympics will once again feature one of the toughest sports in the program.

 

Who to Watch:
Shani Davis (USA)
– He changed the face of Long Track Speed Skating in the USA and will likely head into his last Olympic Games this year as the two-time Olympic Gold Medalist in the 1,000m and a two-time Olympic Silver Medalist in the 1,500m looks to add to his medal count

Michael Mulder (Netherlands)
– A sprint specialist Mulder is carrying the hopes of a nation that is known for long track speed skating and will look to repeat as Olympic Champion in the 500m race to add to the legend of Netherlands skating

Heather Richardson (USA)
– Carrying the hopes of the USA and their newfound dominance in Speed Skating Richardson will enter her first Olympics on the tail of a great season that included a Gold Medal at the 2013 World Speed Skating Sprint Championship as she hopes to repeat the performance in Sochi

Canadian Content:
Christine Nesbitt (Calgary, Alberta)
– The Canadians used to be dominant in Long Track but lately they have dropped off although there are still holdovers from that era including Nesbitt who will enter her third Olympic Games and hopes to repeat as the Gold Medalist in the 1,000m

Denny Morrison (Chetwynd, British Columbia)
– 2010 was supposed to be the coming out party for Morrison but it turned out to be a disaster as Morrison would trip off of the start in his best event the 1,500m and he will look to recover by winning the medal he wanted in 2010

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