Speed skating is a competitive form of ice skating in which the competitors race each other in travelling a certain distance on skates. Types of speed skating are long track speed skating, short track speed skating, and marathon speed skating. In the Olympic Games, long-track speed skating is usually referred to as just “speed skating”, while short-track speed skating is known as “short track”. The ISU, the governing body of both ice sports, refers to long track as “speed skating” and short track as “short track skating”.
The standard rink for long track is 400 meters long, but tracks of 200, 250 and 333⅓ meters are used occasionally. It is one of two Olympic forms of the sport and the one with the longer history. An international federation was founded in 1892, the first for any winter sport. The sport enjoys large popularity in the Netherlands and Norway. There are top international rinks in a number of other countries, including Canada, the United States, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Russia. A World Cup circuit is held with events in those countries and with two events in Thialf, the ice hall in Heerenveen, Netherlands.
International Skating Union rules allow some leeway in the size and radius of curves.
Short track speed skating takes place on a smaller rink, normally the size of an ice hockey rink, on a 111.12 m oval track. Distances are shorter than in long-track racing, with the longest Olympic individual race being 1500 meters (the women’s relay is 3000 meters and the men’s relay 5000 meters). Races are usually held as knockouts, with the best two in heats of four or five qualifying for the final race, where medals are awarded. Disqualifications and falls are not uncommon.
There are variations on the mass-start races. In the regulations of roller sports, eight different types of mass starts are described. Among them are elimination races, where one or more competitors are eliminated at fixed points during the course; simple distance races, which may include preliminary knockout races; endurance races with time limits instead of a fixed distance; points races; and individual pursuits.
Races usually have some rules about disqualification if an opponent is unfairly hindered; these rules vary between the disciplines. In long track speed skating, almost any infringement on the pairmate is punished, though skaters are permitted to change from the inner to the outer lane out of the final curve if they are not able to hold the inner curve, as long as they are not interfering with the other skater. In mass-start races, skaters will usually be allowed some physical contact.
Team races are also held; in long track speed skating, the only team race at the highest level of competition is the team pursuit, though athletics-style relay races are held at children’s competitions. Relay races are also held in short track and inline competitions, but here, exchanges may take place at any time during the race, though exchanges may be banned during the last couple of laps.
Most races are held on an oval course, but there are exceptions. Oval sizes vary; in short track speed skating, the rink must be an oval of 111.12 metres, while long track speed skating uses a similarly standardized 400 m rink. Inline skating rinks are between 125 and 400 metres, though banked tracks can only be 250 metres long. Inline skating can also be held on closed road courses between 400 and 1,000 metres, as well as open-road competitions where starting and finishing lines do not coincide. This is also a feature of outdoor marathons.
In the Netherlands, marathon competitions may be held on natural ice on canals, and bodies of water such as lakes and rivers, but may also be held on artificially frozen 400 m tracks, with skaters circling the track 100 times, for example.