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166 days to go – Short Track Speed Skating!

August 30, 2009

I must apologize.  On Wednesday, I meant to comment on the nomination of the athletes for the 2010 Olympic Short Track Speed Skating team.  The athletes were announced at 10am Pacific time and, though I tried to listen for it on the radio, I missed it.  And then it got lost in the rest of the excitement of the day as David and I cruised up to Whistler in his Rolls!  So, to make up for it today, here is our Vancouver 2010 Olympic Short Track Speed Skating Team and a description of the sport.

Francois-Louis Tremblay during a 500m heat at the ISU World Cup Speed competition in Vancouver 2008

Francois-Louis Tremblay during a 500m heat at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating competition in Vancouver 2008

Congratulations to the women’s team: Kalyna Roberge (St-Étienne-de-Lauzon, QC), Jessica Gregg (Edmonton, AB), Marianne St-Gelais (St-Félicien, QC), Tania Vicent (Laval, QC), and Valérie Maltais (La Baie, QC).

And congratulations to the men’s team: Charles Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC), Olivier Jean (Lachenaie, QC), Guillaume Bastille (Rivière-du-Loup, QC), François-Louis Tremblay (Montréal, QC), and François Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC).

(Note: The links to the athletes are from a variety of sources, some better than others.  If you know of a better link to one of the athletes, please comment or email and I’ll update the post.  Thank you and merci!!)

Kalyna Roberge in 1000m quarter-finals at the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating championships in Gangneung, South Korea.

Kalyna Roberge in 1000m quarter-finals at the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating championships in Gangneung, South Korea.

The history of skating is a bit shorter than the history of cross-country skiing, I am guessing because good metal was much harder to come by than slightly flexible strips of wood.  Skating dates back about 1,000 years, when animal bones were strapped to feet in Scandinavia and the Netherlands to move more quickly across icy lakes and rivers.  In 1592, a Scotsman (couldn’t find his name) is credited with inventing iron blades.  (This information comes from Speed Skating Canada, Wikipedia has a bit of a different story).  Speed skaters now use a skate that has a detached heel (often called a ‘clap skate’ for the sound they make).  Short track and long track skates are a bit different from each other.  I’ll talk about Short Track skates here for the most part, and save Long Track skates for a post about Long Track speed skating.

Speed skating boots are made of fibreglass that is molded to the athlete’s foot.  The blades are about  38 – 45cm, but have more rocker (curve in the bottom of the blade) than Long Track and they are offset to the left to allow the athlete’s to push more into the corners.  The athletes must also wear a helmet, gloves, knee pads, protector, and shin guards and now-a-days will be in a lycra suit.

Racing takes place on a 111.12m long track.  It fits within a hockey rink (Pacific Coliseum in our case)!  It is pretty much all corner, and because of the speeds all of the boards must be covered in pads to protect the athlete’s in case of a fall.  The races are ‘mass starts’ with 4, 6, or 8 competitors per race (depending on the race).  In the Olympics, the women races are 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m and a relay of 3,000m; the men race 500m, 1,000m, 1,500m and a relay of 5,000m.

Pacific Coliseum, home of Short Track Speed Skating and Figure Skating for Vancouver 2010

Pacific Coliseum, home of Short Track Speed Skating and Figure Skating for Vancouver 2010

Races are skated counterclockwise.  When overtaking another competitor the athlete must be careful not to collide with or obstruct the athlete being overtaken.  If they do they may be disqualified.  (Interesting tidbit, if a skater is lapped twice, they must leave the race).  There is a lot of strategy in Short Track.  Knowing when to delay the pack and conserve energy or when to sprint and hope to cause confusion are some of the tactics that Short Track skaters need to become expert at.  And from watching previous races I know that if someone else falls, and you get caught in it, you better hope you can get up quick, because the race won’t wait for you.  It’s sort of a lower contact form of roller derby, but faster, and an razor sharp blades (they’re only about 1.25mm thick and sharpened after every race!).

In relay races eight teams of four skaters compete.  Each skater must have at least one turn, but usually don’t do more than about 1.5 laps at a time.  These are fast races done at something resembling a sprint (am I being conservative? I would not be surprised if it is a full sprint the whole time!).  Competitors must only tag their teammate to complete an exchange (unlike passing a baton in track and field) however most exchanges are done by the finishing skater pushing the starting skater to get their momentum going.  While a competitor is racing, a teammate will act as a ‘cover’ and can tag a fallen teammate and continue the race if a fall does happen.  The last two laps must be completed by a single teammate.

Marc Gagnon pushing teammate Jonathan Guilmette during the finals of the 5,000m relay at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002.  Canada won gold!

Marc Gagnon pushing teammate Jonathan Guilmette during the finals of the 5,000m relay at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. Canada won gold!

(Note: I have taken this information from both the Vancouver 2010 website and Speed Skating Canada which is based on the International Skating Union.  The rules vary from ISU competitions for the Olympics.  I think I have these right, but please do comment and correct me if my rules for the Olympics are incorrect.  Thank you and merci.)

Interested??  There may still be tickets available during the next ticketing period in November.  Check Vancouver 2010 for more ticket information.  Hope I can get there to see some.  Sounds like a blast!

Thank you and merci.

PS – Wonder why I finish my posts with “thank you and merci”?  English and French are the Official Languages of both Vancouver 2010 and Canada.  As a volunteer for the Games we have been asked to do our best to,always thank everyone in both languages.  I am working on trying to add a bit more French to my vocabulary (and simple phrases from other languages as well), but this one I can practice everyday.  So thank you and merci for letting me practice on you!

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