The thrill of racing against a clock or against other racers in a serious competition to win, is like no other. Be it on land or on water, racing is a sport that tests your strategic skills and your physical prowess and how well they work together. Sometimes, the fastest racer is not always the winner and one sport that exhibits this speed anomaly is the sport of speed skating. With speed skating, skaters race along a track, either in pairs for the best time or a group of skaters race against each other, to see who crosses the finish line first.
These two basic forms are called long track or speed skating and short track speed skating, respectively. Speed skating requires an excellent ice skating ability, physical strength and endurance, as well as mental fortitude and the brain smarts to beat the competition. For such a sport, having the right skating equipment is just one part. The right rules and principles have to be followed.
Basics and Rules of Short Track Speed Skating
Types of Races: Short track involves a pack start or a group competition. Here 4-6 skaters race to be the first person across the finish line. This type of race has a mass start, where all the skaters start from the starting line at the same time. Another type of short track skating is a relay race. A relay team of 4 members must compete in tandem, such that each skater of a team takes at least one round of the track. Instead of passing a baton, one teammate must tag the other to switch the chance. A race can be one of the following 3 distances: 500 meters (4.5 laps), 1,000 meters (9 laps) and 1,500 meters (13.5 laps).
Basic Race Rules: A race is divided into heats, quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. Competitors advance to the next round by the process of elimination, where the top two skaters in a round are declared the victors. Heats are the preliminary rounds. The skating track is oval shaped and is 111.12 m long, enclosed within a standard 60 m x 30 m ice rink. The corners of the track are marked by 7 plastic cones.
If a skater skates on the inside of the track, the distance becomes shorter and he/she has an advantage. That is why the starting positions of the skaters are decided by lots. The track must be skated in a counterclockwise manner. The official starter will fire a pistol into the air to start the race. The skaters are allowed one false start, more than 1 and they are disqualified. The skater in the lead has the right-of-way and can pass other skaters but must avoid collisions. A bell is rung at the start of the last lap, to alert the skaters.
Violations: Short track skating involves high skating speeds in a small circular track. Infractions that violate the rules, some by chance and some intentional, can occur. One such infraction is impeding. This means a skater can put himself/herself in another skater's way to slow the skater down or hamper their progress. Throwing a hand out, slowing down in a lane suddenly, tripping or pushing or touching are impeding acts.
If one skater bumps into another, especially at a crucial time of strategy and the bumped skater lost his/her position, then the skater who bumped is disqualified (DQ) and the other advances to the next round. Even a slight touch can be viewed as an impeding act, as the touched skater can be thrown off balance. The skating referee decides whether a noted incident of touching is accidental or on purpose. If on purpose, the offending skater can be DQed.
Two infractions involving track etiquette, are:
- Cross-tracking: It's an infraction where a skater from one skating lane, cuts off another skater while changing his/her lane. Hence the other skater will have to brake abruptly to avoid colliding with the cross-tracking skater or falling down.
- Off-track: A skater must always take a turn on the outside part of his/her track. When he/she takes a turn on the inside part of the track, this is an off-track infraction.
Long Track Speed Skating Rules and Regulations
Long Track Skating: This speed skating form pits 2 skaters against each other, in a timed race to complete a certain distance. Standard distances include 500 m, 1000 m, 1500 m, 3000 m (women only), 5000 m and 10,000 m (men only). There are also different racing formats such as sprints, team pursuit, single and marathon. The track is 400 m long and oval shaped. It is divided into two lanes, one outer and one inner with a third interior lane for warming up.
Lane Rules: The inner lane is shorter in length as compared to the outer lane. So in any long track race, the skaters must change their lanes once, during each lap around the rink, to ensure the same distance is covered by each competitor. Lanes can be changed only at the crossing straight point and the skater in the outer lane has the right-of-way, if he/she reaches the crossover point first. Cones are placed along the corners to constrict the turns. In this form of speed skating, the skaters must race in pairs and must skate along the rink in a counterclockwise manner.
Miscellaneous Regulations: The skating pairs are picked by the referee, using a lottery system on the night before the race. Likewise which pair gets which lane and outer and inner lane details are also decided by lottery. Skaters are provided with armbands, white for inner and red for outer, to show which lane they started in. First the starter issues a "Go to the Start" command to the skaters, who must move to the pre-start line. This is 2.46 feet behind the start line. On the starter's command of "Ready", the skaters will move to the starting line, ready themselves and at the pistol shot, start to race. Like short track skating, the skaters are allowed one false start. Infractions, whether intentional or accidental, are also monitored.
The above speed skating rules are meant for competitive or Olympic-level speed skating. Speed skating is a thrilling and highly active sport but safety precautions and measures must be taken to ensure a safe experience as well as a fair sporting event for all.