Short track speed skating is the angrier sibling of long track - all drama, excitement and a touch of heartbreak.
That has been demonstrated in devastating misfortune by Britain’s multiple world and European champion Elise Christie, who showed incredible resilience to keep coming back after a number of crashes and disqualifications at Sochi 2014 and Pyeongchang 2018.
Short track is based loosely on long track, the original version of the sport, but its origins can be traced back to North America - particularly in the USA and Canada - in the early 20th century. It first became a proper Olympic sport in 1992, having featured as a demonstration event four years earlier.
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South Korea is the most successful short track nation in Olympic history, and will again be the country to beat at the Beijing Olympics. On home soil at the last Games, they finished top of the sport’s medal table with six in total, including three golds. But the Netherlands are also strong - as they are in long track - and will be a force to be reckoned with.
But the sport is so incredibly unpredictable that over the past two Games, no athlete has been able to successfully defend their title. Just like in Tokyo, where a number of mixed relays were introduced, short track will get its first Olympic mixed team relay in Beijing, after a successful run in the short track speed skating World Cup programme.
This year Great Britain’s team will be a new look line-up, with Christie not at the Games after announcing her retirement from the sport.

Team GB participants and medal prospects

Kathryn Thompson is by far and away the best performing British woman and she easily gained selection for Team GB in their only quota spot.
Three men with the same surname were the main men’s contenders.The Treacy brothers of Niall, Farrell and Ethan battled it out for a place in Beijing, with Ethan missing out.
In terms of the global field, Arianna Fontana is the most decorated female short track skater in history with eight medals in total, including one gold, but Suzanne Schulting is the big star now. The Dutch skater won gold in every competition at the 2021 World Championships and she goes to Beijing with huge expectations.
2018 Olympic champion Wu Dajing is the big name in the men’s field.

Short track skating events and format

There are four events in each of the men’s and women’s fields, comprising of the following:
  • Men: 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m team relay
  • Women: 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 3000m team relay
Following the International Olympic Committee’s drive to include more mixed events, the mixed team relay will also be making its debut. During each race, they go in the following order: woman-woman-man-man-woman-woman-man-man.
From each heat, the two go through to the next round, through until the ‘A’ final, where the medals will be competed for.

Suzanne Schulting is the woman to beat in Beijing

Image credit: Getty Images

Who won the last Olympic gold in short track speed skating and what is the world record?

There are multiple events in speed skating, so the answer here varies. In the men’s competition, China’s Wu Dajing took gold in the 500m with a world record time - he then beat that again in November 2018 and the mark still serves as the best ever.
Canada’s Samuel Girard claimed 1000m gold, but South Korea’s Daeheon Hwang has the world record, set in 2016. His compatriot, Lim Hyo-jun is the reigning 1500m champion, but again the world record belongs to someone else - in this case, the Netherlands’ Sjinkie Knegt - again in 2016.
Hungary holds the 5000m men’s team title - and they also have the world record, achieved in Calgary during 2018.
In the women’s competition, Arianna Fontana is the 500m champion but Canada’s Kim Boutin is the world record holder in that event, with her time set in 2019.
The star of the sport, Suzanne Schulting, won the 1000m in Pyeongchang, but the best time in that event has stood since 2012, when Suk Hee Shim broke the record. Choi Min-jeong is the reigning 1500m champion, and also holds the world record.
The 3000m relay was won by South Korea, but look set to be challenged this time by the Netherlands, who broke the world record in October 2021.

Short track speed skating rules

A track measures just 112.12m, meaning it can be raced inside many multi-purpose ice rinks, and the dimensions match that of an ice hockey rink.
Between four and six skaters start each race - and since they compete very close together, crashes and disqualifications are common. Many of the basic rules are similar to athletics. Although contact can be made with another athlete, skaters cannot intentionally push or block an opponent. They cannot skate off the track, or use a team-mate to propel them around the track.
Just like athletics, skaters must wait for the starter’s gun, or they will be given a false start.

What is the difference between short track speed skating and speed skating?

There are some simple differences between the two versions of the race skating. Think of short track as the chaotic sibling - skaters race each other on a very small course only the size of an ice hockey rink.
Long track is over a 400m track and it is a race against the clock. One of the easiest ways to describe it is to compare it to most track cycling events - like the sprint and pursuit events.

How fast do short track speed skaters go?

According to the International Olympic Committee, short track speed skaters can regularly reach speeds of around 31 mph, though this will vary depending on the length of the race, and whether it is better suited to sprint or endurance.

Why do skaters start so slow in short track speed skating?

If you imagine the size of an ice hockey rink, it is not a particularly big space for athletes to jostle for position. The start of races is very tactical, with each athlete playing mental games with each other before they set themselves up for the final sprint.
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