Speed Skating Records – What Not to Look For at Sochi

Will there be any world records set in speed skating at Sochi, referring to long-track? Probably not. How about Olympic records? Maybe, but not a lot, if any. Why is that? Because much more so than athletics (track & field) and swimming, long-track speed skating records are almost entirely dependent on the oval where one is skating.

Speed skating ovals used to always be outdoor rinks, but on 17 November 1986 the first two indoor ovals opened – the Berlin Hohenschönhausen in East Berlin, and the Dutch rink Thialf at Heerenveen. In 1988 the Calgary Winter Olympics had an indoor oval used for speed skating for the first time at the Olympics. In 1992 the Albertville rink was outdoors, once again, but since 1994, when the speed skating events were contested at the Vikingskipet in Hamar (near Lillehammer), all Olympic speed skating ovals have been indoors on artificial ice. The weather was quite poor at Albertville and after the 1992 Winter Olympics, the ISU mandated that Olympic ovals had to be indoors.

Prior to 1986 world records were routinely set at only a few ovals, for various reasons. One is that many of the major competitions were contested there, such as at Davos, Switzerland, or Inzell, West Germany. The other is that certain rinks were renowned for having good ice conditions. The absolute speed factory among outdoor rinks was the Medeo oval at Alma-Ata (now Almaty), Kazakhstan, in the former Soviet Union. Not only was Medeo known for good ice, it was at very high altitude (1,691 m), lessening the wind resistance, and in addition, Medeo was in a valley, and seemed to often have following winds that circled completely around the oval at all-times, making all marks seem wind-aided.

But once indoor rinks came into being, almost all world records have been set there. And further, they have been set primarily in two places – Calgary and Salt Lake City. The reason is two-fold. Both are known for excellent ice, but they are also at altitude, with both over 1,000 metres in elevation – Salt Lake City is slightly higher at 1,288 m to Calgary’s 1,045 m. Since the Salt Lake City oval opened in 2001, many all the world records have been set there.

Let’s look at the numbers, by Olympic event:

Men

500      last 10 WR at Calgary/SLC – 13 of the last 16 since 1988, the last four at SLC

1,000    last 20 WR at Calgary/SLC – 21 of the last 23 since 1988, the last six at SLC

1,500    last 12 WR at Calgary/SLC going back to 1998

5K        last 8 WR at Calgary/SLC going back to 1998

10K      a bit different with 4 Calgary and 3 Salt Lake City WRs, out of 13 since 1987

Women

500      last 19 WR at Calgary/SLC – 14 at Calgary and 5 at SLC, going back to 1987

1,000    last 14 WR at Calgary/SLC – 10 at Calgary and 4 at SLC, going back to 1987

1,500    9 of 10 WR at Calgary/SLC – 6 at Calgary and 3 at SLC, going back to 1997

3K        10 of 14 WR at Calgary/SLC – 9 at Calgary and 1 at SLC, going back to 1987

5K        7 of 12 WR at Calgary/SLC – 3 at Calgary and last 4 at SLC, going back to 1988

The anomaly in the above was the women’s 1,500 record with Karin Kania-Enke’s mark of 1:59.30 from 22 March 1986 lasting for 11 years – until 29 November 1997. But it was set at Medeo. You can also see that the effect is more pronounced in the shorter races, where the decreased air resistance of altitude is more effective. In the longer races, the oxygen debt takes over.

So what about Sochi? The Adler Arena opened in 2012 and hosted the 2013 Single-Distance World Championships. But Adler Arena is at the Coastal Cluster by the Black Sea, at an altitude of about 65 metres. Any world record set here will be an impressive performance. Here are the Sochi oval records compared to the current world records (as 1 January 2014):

Men

Sochi

500        Jan Smeekens (NED)                      34.80

1,000    Denis Kuzin (KAZ)                       1:09.14

1,500    Denis Yuskov (RUS)                    1:46.32

5K          Sven Kramer (NED)                     6:14.41

10K       Jorrit Bergsma (NED)             12:57.69

World Record                                               Site              Year

500        Jeremy Wotherspoon (CAN)     34.03   Salt Lake      2007

1,000    Shani Davis (USA)                        1:06.42   Salt Lake      2009

1,500    Shani Davis (USA)                        1:41.04   Salt Lake      2009

5K          Sven Kramer (NED)                     6:03.32   Calgary         2007

10K       Sven Kramer (NED)                 12:41.69   Salt Lake      2007

 

Women

Sochi

500         Lee Sang-Hwa (KOR)                  37.65

1,000    Olga Fatkulina (RUS)               1:15.44

1,500    Ireen Wüst (NED)                     1:55.38

3K          Ireen Wüst (NED)                     4:02.43

5K          Martina Sábliková (CZE)       6:54.31

World Record                                               Site              Year

500        Lee Sang-Hwa (KOR)                 36.36   Salt Lake      2013

1,000    Brittany Bowe (USA)             1:12.58   Salt Lake      2013

1,500    Cindy Klassen (CAN)             1:51.79   Salt Lake      2005

3K          Cindy Klassen (CAN)              3:53.34   Calgary         2006

5K          Martina Sábliková (CZE)       6:42.66   Salt Lake      2011

Two things are immediately apparent from that list. The Sochi marks, set at a World Championship, are not close to the world records, in any event, and every current world record has been set at either Calgary or Salt Lake City.

Even comparing the Sochi records to Olympic records, Sochi comes out behind usually.

Men

Sochi

500        Jan Smeekens (NED)                      34.80

1,000    Denis Kuzin (KAZ)                       1:09.14

1,500    Denis Yuskov (RUS)                    1:46.32

5K          Sven Kramer (NED)                     6:14.41

10K       Jorrit Bergsma (NED)             12:57.69

Olympic Record                                            Site              Year

500        Casey FitzRandolph (USA)       34.42   Salt Lake      2002

1,000    Gerard van Velde (NED)        1:07.18   Salt Lake      2002

1,500    Derek Parra (USA)                    1:43.95   Salt Lake       2002

5K          Sven Kramer (NED)                  6:14.60   Vancouver    2010

10K       Lee Seung-Hun (KOR)          12:58.55   Vancouver    2010

 

Women

Sochi

500        Lee Sang-Hwa (KOR)                 37.65

1,000    Olga Fatkulina (RUS)            1:15.44

1,500    Ireen Wüst (NED)                  1:55.38

3K          Ireen Wüst (NED)                   4:02.43

5K         Martina Sábliková (CZE)      6:54.31

Olympic Record                                            Site              Year

500        Catriona Le May Doan (CAN)   37.30   Salt Lake      2002

1,000    Chris Witty (USA)                       1:13.83   Salt Lake      2002

1,500    Anni Friesinger (GER)              1:54.02   Salt Lake      2002

3K          Claudia Pechstein (GER)         3:57.70   Salt Lake      2002

5K          Claudia Pechstein (GER)         6:46.91   Salt Lake      2002

So don’t look for too many speed skating records at Sochi. Which ones are vulnerable for Olympic marks? The men’s 10K is at high risk – Sven Kramer skated 12:46.96 earlier in 2013 at Heerenveen (sea level), the second fastest time ever, and then bettered that at the Dutch trials at Heerenveen, with 12:45.08 on 28 December 2013. Lee Sang-Hwa could also better Le May Doan’s 500 mark, and Casey FitzRandolph’s men’s 500 is at risk.

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