Go Speed Racer, Go!
Photo Credit: CBSsports.com
Speed Skating is in full swing at the Olympics and fans are going wild. This death defying winter sport requires skaters to race along a track of crystal clear ice, attempting to beat their opponent’s speed and agility. Speed Skating at the Olympic level is composed of 15 different events; seven for women, seven for men, and one mixed relay.
The events are separated by distance, some requiring as little as 500 meters to complete the track and others stretching out for 10,000 meters. Another distinguishing factor between events is the number of competitors that each calls for. The bulk of Speed Skating events are races between only two competitors and are arranged in a tournament style fashion. Skaters are paired up at random with competitors from other countries and the winners move onto the next round.
There are only a couple of events that require more than two skaters for a race. The ‘Mass Start’ race incorporates many Speed Skaters and looks much more akin to any land based race. What distinguishes Speed Skating, for the most part, is the fact that there are usually only two skaters on the track at a time. This allows the audience and fans to really hone in on their favorite athletes. With only two bodies to focus on, you can really take in all of the nuances of the sport.
The races are run on a two lane track. As with any track and field event, the competitor on the inside lane will appear ahead as the race continues on. In order to make the distances equal, the skaters switch lanes each lap. It is not unheard of for skaters to forget which lane they are in from time to time. This seemingly funny mix up can cost Speed Skaters the gold if it happens to them.
In the 2014 Sochi Olympic games, there was a similar occurrence. Olympic gold medalist Bob de Jong of the Netherlands completely lapped his opponent, Alexej Baumgaertner of Germany. Since they switch lanes each lap, this meant that de Jong wound up immediately behind his German counterpart. With thin lanes, passing an opponent in this sport is exceptionally challenging. But, in order to set a world record and take home another gold medal, Dutch de Jong persevered and completely passed Baumgaertner.
In the 2018 Pyeongchang games the Netherlands has continued to absolutely dominate. It would be false to claim that this is vastly different than other years, but this year the Dutch takeover seems especially intense. If you consider the country of the Netherlands it becomes a bit clearer why this small nation has such a profound aptitude for Speed Skating. This Northern European country is remarkably flat and sees a high number of freezing days each year. This means that lakes and rivers are often frozen over and that there is generally a high amount of outdoor skiing and skating that one can partake in.
Between Olympic events, the European Speed Skating teams are known for racing outdoor races for extremely long distances (up to 200 kilometers). This further reinforces that being from a Northern European country definitely bodes well for one’s future as a Speed Skater.
Sven Kramer is the most decorated athlete in the world of Speed Skating. He has taken home over 22 medals throughout his illustrious career and is continuing his dominance in Pyeongchang as we speak. He has earned himself the name, ‘The Flying Dutchman’, by way of his near supernatural ability to race atop the ice. The event that he has always sought gold in is the 10,000 meter men’s race. For one reason or another this particular gold medal has always eluded him. In fact, at the Vancouver games his coach accidentally instructed him to change lanes when he was already in the correct lane. This knocked him out of the competition and he had to wait another four years before attempting the same race again. At Pyeongchang he has said that this is his ultimate goal and that he won’t stop short of the gold. As he was bested by 3 others we will most likely see him in Beijing
But Speed Skating isn't just for the men as women from all countries are crushing this sport. Japan's Nana Takagi took home the Gold and the bragging rights to be the first Olympic Gold Medalist in a women's Mass Start race. He sister, Miho not only won individual medals but helped her teammates win the gold for Japan in the Ladies pursuit. Take a look below, at the strength of these women - especially Maame Biney as she becomes a force to be reckoned with - on and off the rink!