By Beth Skwarecki
If speeding down a long lane of ice seems like your thing, or hugging tight corners while trying to get ahead of whoever is leading the pack, maybe you should consider lacing up a pair of speed skates. You don’t have to have Olympic-size thighs to try it out, although that would certainly help. I stopped by a practice to get the lowdown.
Olympic speed skating comes in two flavours: long and short track. The long track events are timed, and typically two skaters compete at a time, in separate lanes. Whoever posts the fastest time wins. Just to keep things interesting, there is also a team pursuit event, where groups of three skate the distance together.
If you’re hoping to get into traditional long track speed skating, there are only two full size rinks in the US where you can do it properly: one in Utah and one in Wisconsin – and only two in Canada.  US Speedskating has been poaching skaters who race on roads in rollerblades, since there are no Olympic events for roller skating. So if you have your heart set on skating long straightaways with your arms swinging, the easiest path into the sport may be inline speed skating.
Short track is simpler, though: the regulation track fits easily inside a hockey rink. So if you go looking for a speed skating club, it may be easier to find people training for, and competing in, short track.
What it’s like
I met up with the Pittsburgh Speedskating Club at a rink near the city during open skate hours. (Hockey is so popular that it’s hard to get dedicated ice time at a reasonable price. It’s hard out there for obscure winter sports.) They do short track skating, and one of this year’s short-track competitors, John-Henry Kreuger, trained with this club when he was young.
They let me borrow a pair of skates, which you can see in the photo above. Speed skates have longer, straighter blades than figure or hockey skates. (All ice skates are “rockered,” or shaped slightly like the bottom of a rocking chair, which helps you to glide in a curved path when you’re leaning on the side of the skate.) They also have very low ankles, so you can bend your knees and get your body weight closer to the ice.
I’m not gonna lie: the hardest part of skating with speed skates on is simply skating. If you’re new to the ice in general, it will take a while to get comfortable on skates. Lessons in figure or hockey skating might be a good first step before you show up to speed skating practice.
I’ve done a tiny bit of figure skating (I can do a 3-turn and a waltz jump, and that’s the end of my repertoire) but most of my skating experience is on wheels. I used to play roller derby, which involves doing speedy laps with strong crossover pushes around a tightly curved oval track. I’ve got this, right? But as soon as I stepped on the ice it was like I had to learn to skate all over again. I talked to another newbie whose prior experience was in figure skating; we both felt lost.
So for the next hour the coaches helped us learn the simple art of putting a foot down, pushing, shifting weight, and picking the other foot up. You want your toe, knee, and face to all be lined up on top of each other, one coach told me. On one side of that vertical line are your opposite arm and leg. But on the other side of that line, countering that weight, all you have is your hip. The lower you get, and the more you stick your hip out, the more stable you’ll be.
Besides shifting weight, the other tricky skill was finding my edges. All ice skates have two edges, meaning that big knife on your foot is really, if you look closely, two parallel knives. When you’re gliding straight forward, you’ll be on both edges of the blade. But as soon as you lean into a turn, you’re on just one edge or the other.
So I spent most of the time practicing my crossovers and finding the exact way to position my weight and my feet to get that outside edge to dig into the ice. Of course, I wiped out once—I was going around a turn, and before I knew it I was sliding and rolling on the ice. I don’t know exactly what happened but I got up and was covered in shaved ice from waist to toes. Hey, falling on your first day is good, right? It means you’re trying.
*Beth Skwarecki is health editor of the Lifehacker website, where this article was first published.
Endnotes added by amateursport.wordpress.com
1.According to Wikipedia, there are a grand total of 35 indoor speed skating rinks in the world – eight of which are in the Netherlands.
With the completion of a new project, being built on the grounds of the current outdoor Gaétan Boucher Oval in Quebec City, Canada will count one more indoor covered long track oval available for training and competition purposes. The 68.7 M$ project of the “Centre de glace”, slated to open in 2019-2020, will include a 400m indoor ice rink that can be used by the public year-round and meets international standards for long track speed skating. The facility will also contain two additional rinks to be used for various ice sports, for a total of four, and include training facilities and office space.
The first indoor artificial speed skating oval was the Sportforum Hohenschönhausen in East Berlin, Germany in 1985. The first indoor artificial speed skating oval used in the Winter Olympics was the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 1988. Since the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway all speed skating competitions have been held in indoor ovals.
The Richmond Olympic Oval in British Columbia built for the Vancouver Winter Olympics and the Sport und Koncert Komplex (Winter Stadium) built for the Lillehammer Winter Olympics are the only venues to have been dismantled – unbelievably – as a speed skating rink, in 2010 and 1992 respectively.
The Ontario Speed Skating Oval
Quebec City hosts Speed Skating Canada’s National Age Class Long Track Championships
Quebec City, February 8, 2018 – A total of 143 young long track speed skaters from across the country were in action Saturday and Sunday, February 10-11, at the Gaétan Boucher Oval in Quebec City (930, avenue Roland-Beaudin) for Speed Skating Canada’s National Age Class Long Track Championships.
Quebec City, February 8, 2018 – A total of 143 young long track speed skaters from across the country will be in action Saturday and Sunday, February 10-11, at the Gaétan Boucher Oval in Quebec City (930, avenue Roland-Beaudin) for Speed Skating Canada’s National Age Class Long Track Championships.
The Olympic Style 500m, 1500m, and Mass Start 300m, 3000m, relays, 1500m Super Final and Team Pursuit events are presented in the Girls 11, 12, 13 and 14, as well as Boys 12, 13, 14 and 15 categories. Races will be start at 9:15 am Saturday and 8:45 am Sunday.
The Canadian Age Class Long Track Championships, hosted this year by the Fédération de patinage de vitesse du Québec and the Centre d’entraînemenent de patinage de vitesse de la région de Québec, under the supervision of Speed Skating Canada, is intended to be the focal point of athlete preparation for skaters in the “Training to Train” (T2T) stage of development and is also intended for skaters at the “Learning to Compete” stage of development who have not met Canada Cup time standards. This competition provides a meaningful, high profile and developmentally appropriate event which is a source of motivation and opportunity for recognition of the best developing long track skaters in Canada, and will serve as a primary introduction to national competitions where skaters represent their Branch in competition.
More info, including the full schedule and results, are available on Speed Skating Canada’s Website: www.speedskating.ca.
Speed skating clubs and other resources
A section on the website of Speedskating Canada contains a list of clubs useful information regarding how to start a speed skating club, as well as the guidelines, the organization, the management and the finances of a club.
If you have any question or would like more information, please contact Speed Skating Canada at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Racing on Skates
Speed Skating Canada’s Racing on Skates makes specific recommendations for competitions at each stage of skater development. Skaters in the FUNdamentals (FUNd) and Learn to Train (L2T) stages should be racing shorter races (less than 45 seconds), with a focus on speed skating skills. Later in the L2T stage, skaters can begin participating in longer aerobic events. The competitions should be at the club or Interclub level, lasting four to eight hours, with each skater participating in many races during each competition.
Across the country, clubs have incorporated these recommendations into fun and meaningful competitions for FUNd and L2T skaters. Some suggestions include:
- Incorporating a mixture of more traditional speed skating races (e.g. 50m, 100m, 200m, 300m and 800-1200m mass start counterclockwise races) with “skills-based races”. Skills-based races are different from “games” in that they have a designated race course, a start and a finish. Examples include: the Loop’d’Whirl and Candy Cane races. The BC Speed Skating Association has developed an online events manual with suggestions for skaters at this developmental level: http://bcssaregionalstreamevents.blogspot.ca/.
- Providing a mixture of individual and team events. Team events for younger skaters can include a Push-and-Chase relay, or a Race Car relay.
- Where (short track) facilities allow, use an 85m track for young and developing skaters.
Other suggestions to make the competitions fun, without interfering with the racing, include:
- Set a theme for the event. Decorate the arena, use stickers on posted event information and encourage volunteers to dress up!
- Provide individual recognition awards for all skaters. These differ from participation awards because they point out a specific accomplishment for a skater. For example, a ribbon for all skaters who skated personal best (PB) times, a special pin for any skater participating in their first competition, or a “cookie medal” for anyone achieving their first crossover in a competition. A designated award ceremony, with time for pictures, is a great opportunity to hand out awards.