So many events at the Winter Olympics are thrilling to watch. And if you have a ~need for speed~, you've probably tuned into speed skating once or twice since the Olympics kicked off in PyeongChang, South Korea last week. Olympic speed skaters appear to move across the TV screen so quickly. Matches seem to be over in seconds before viewers even have a chance to settle in. (Hey, they don't call it speed skating for nothing.) The sport is pretty amazing to watch, but many fans are probably wondering: exactly how fast do Olympic speed skaters go?
According to the official Olympic website, short track speed skaters typically go as fast as 31 mph. And according to the Washington Post, long track speed skaters can go as fast as 35 mph. Damn! That's higher than the speed limit for cars in some neighborhoods. (And for the record, long track speed skating is usually simply known as "speed skating," while short track speed skating is known as "short track.")
18-year-old Maame Biney is competing as a short track speed skater at the Winter Olympics for the first time this year. Biney recently opened up about how she is able to go so fast in a video for CNN. She explained:
During those starts, you have to put your hips forward and go low. When the judge says go, you have to just basically run on the ice. Sometimes it goes by so fast that I don't even know what's happening. So in order to go around the corners to pivot — which is touching your hand on the ice — you have to lean a lot and get a lot of pressure. That's one of the things that makes you go super fast on the corners and whip around ... My fastest time to go one full lap which is 111 meters is 8.6 seconds, which is around 30 to 35 miles an hour. So... whoo! That's really fast.
There are five different lengths that long track speed skaters race on: 500 meters, 1,000 meters, 1,500 meters, 3,000 meters, and 5,000 meters, according to the PyeongChang games' website. These races are all performed on a 400-meter track (that the competitors make laps around).
When it comes to short track, athletes compete in 500-meter, 1,000-meter, and 1,500-meter races, all on a 111.12-meter track. Men also compete in a 5,000-meter relay, while women also compete in a 3,000-meter relay.
The high-speed sport doesn't come without danger. Several speed skaters compete at the same time, all trying to get a good position on the track, meaning there's a high possibility of collision. They're all wearing super sharp blades, that are about 46 centimeters (1.5 feet) in length and just 1 millimeter thick, according to the official Olympics website. Because the sport is so dangerous, most speed skaters take precautions to protect their bodies, which includes wearing helmets, goggles, knee guards, shin guards, neck guards, a cut resistant suit, and cut resistant gloves. Hey, where can I get a pair of those for the next time I have to cut up an avocado?
Interestingly, the Olympic website notes, long track speed skating has been around way longer than short track. Speed skating has been a part of the Olympic games since the beginning, in 1924. However, short track only became an official Olympic sport in 1992, at the games in Albertville, France. Long track speed skating began as early as the 13th Century; the first recorded competition was in 1676 in the Netherlands; and the first formal speed skating events went down in Oslo, Norway, in 1863. Short track was not invented until much later, in the early 1900s, in the United States and Canada. The sport was developed by skaters who did not have access to 400-meter tracks. They began practicing on smaller ice rinks out of necessity, thus giving birth to short track speed skating.
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