Strategy, bravery and skill are needed in this action-packed sport, which provides plenty of thrills and spills at every Olympic Winter Games
The long and short of it
Short track speed skating developed in North America, where the lack of 400m long tracks (as used in speed skating) lead many skaters to practise on smaller ice rinks.
Doing the rounds
Races take place around an oval track measuring 111.12m and designed to fit inside a standard size ice rink (30m x 60m). Up to six athletes will compete in each race, skating in an anti-clockwise direction over distances of 500m, 1,000m and 1,500. There is also a 3,000m relay for women and a 5,000m relay for men.
Blades of glory
Short track boots have a longer blade than traditional skates. The blades are typically around 46cm in length and just 1mm thick! The blades are also extremely sharp and are bent in at an arc to mirror the direction of the turn, helping skaters grip the ice around corners. The blades are also placed off-centre to the left so that the boot does not touch the ice when the skater leans into those turns.
Fast and furious
Skaters can reach speeds of up to 50km/h as they race around the track and, while short track is a non-contact sport, there are often collisions and falls as athletes jockey for position on the ice, making it an exciting and unpredictable spectacle to watch.
With skaters racing at such high speeds in close proximity to one another, protective equipment is vital. Helmets, glasses, knee, shin and neck guards, and a cut resistant suit and gloves are all vital pieces of equipment to protect against the sharp blades.
Last man standing
Short track speed skating produced one of the most memorable moments in Winter Olympic history in 2002, when Steven Bradbury won gold in the 1,000m. The Australian was trailing the rest of the field by almost half a lap as the race entered the final turn, but a huge collision saw the other four finalists all fall to the ice, leaving Bradbury as the only skater left standing – and Australia’s first ever Winter Olympic gold medallist.
While speed skating made its Olympic debut in 1924, short track is a more recent addition the Olympic Winter Games. The discipline made its debut in Albertville in 1992 after being a demonstration sport in Calgary four years earlier. Only four short track events were on the programme in 1992 (women’s 500m, men’s 1,000m, women’s 3,000m relay, men’s 5,000, relay), compared with the eight events we enjoy today.