Ice skating's most famous form is figure skating, which is traditionally an exhibitionist sport with acrobatic movements and dancing styles. But for those seeking the thrill of speed and the excitement of racing on ice, speed skating is the sport of choice. The race track is oval shaped, contestants must line up at one end and race to cover the most circular distance in the least amount of time. Based on the size of the track, speed skating is divided into long track and short track categories.
This action packed sport requires honed physical strength as well as balance and skating skill. There's a delicate science in skating at a high speed as the skater must balance him or herself, at the same time, change body position to push ahead. Speed skaters adopt a signature crouching style or position to give them greater leverage along the ice. In this article, take a look at the inception and growth of this ice sport with a comprehensive listing of speed skating history.
History of Speed Skating
Skating on ice is a very old recreational activity in regions with low temperatures and snowfall. In European countries like Holland, Finland and Scandinavia, water bodies like lakes and rivers, freeze over with ice during the winter months. What started out as a way to get across a lake, soon turned into a fun pastime and the sport of ice skating was born.
At that time, animal bones were finely cut and crafted to form a sharp edge and attached to boots to use as ice skates. But the true realization of ice skating as a sport came with the use of the iron blades in skates. This was done in 1592 by the Scots, who affixed a thin iron blade to a boot. Better balance and easier movement across the ice led to the widespread following of skating as a pastime. In 1642, the Skating Club of Edinburgh was created and in 1763, the first occurrence of a speed skating race took place in England, on the marshes of the Fenland.
In 1889, the Dutch organized the first world skating championships, where speed skating was the main event with different track lengths. The immense popularity of the sport led to the creation of the ISU (International Skating Union) in 1892. Finally a formal body existed for skating as a competitive sport.
The ISU held various speed skating competitions over the years, with two names becoming quite famous for their skating skill. They were Axel Paulsen and Jaap Eden. At the Hamar European Championships in 1894, Eden took the gold and even broke a world record for the 5000-meter track, by decreasing the previous lap record by ½ a minute. His record was unbroken for 17 years and even then competitors could just touch it. Jaap Eden was the world's first speed skating champion and remains a legend in speed skating history.
The icy land of Canada organized the first speed skating race in the continent of North America in 1854. After that, the bug of speed skating was firmly embedded in the local populace and at the first formation of ice on a river, a skating race had to be conducted. The Amateur Skating Association of Canada was formed in 1887 and even staged an official competition in the same year. The ASA was the first Canadian sports body as well. It merged with the ISU in 1894. Together with Norway, they conducted the World Speed Skating Championship in Montreal in 1897. The winner of the first official and international speed skating race was Canadian Jack McCulloch.
In 1909, the Elfstedentocht competition was started and would serve as the premiere speed skating championships for years to come. Another big break for speed skating came in 1916, when it was decided to add it as an official Olympic event.
With its inception in the 1916 Olympics, speed skating became an official skating sport and remains popular to this day. The interesting timeline of speed skating shows how a simple mode of transportation has turned into a highly competitive and intense racing sport today.