Olympic History: Speed skating emerged on the canals of Holland as early as the 13th century, and organized competition was held in The Netherlands as early as 1676. The Dutch spread the idea of speed skating to their neighbors, Germany, France, and Austria, in the early 19th century. The Frieslanders of North Holland crossed the Channel and introduced the sport to England, in an area from Cambridge to the Wash known as the Fens, where competition has been held since 1814. As a result, speed skating in England was originally known as fens skating.
The first recorded competition in speed skating took place in Norway in 1863. The first world championships were contested in 1889, although the ISU held its first championships in 1893, one year after their formation. The first known speed skating competition for women took place in 1905 on a straight course in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. The sport also spread to North America in the mid-1800s. The first great American racer was Tim Donoghue, who competed from 1863-1875. His son, Joseph Donoghue, won the 2nd and 3rd unofficial world championships in 1890 and 1891.
Speed skating was contested at the 1924 Olympic Winter Games and has been on the Olympic Winter program since. Women first competed at the Olympics in 1932 when it was a demonstration sport. Women’s speed skating as a full medal sport began in 1960. The program consists of five individual events for men and women. The men race over 500 metres, 1,000 metres, 1,500 metres, 5,000 metres, and 10,000 metres, while women race over 500 metres, 1,000 metres, 1,500 metres, 3,000 metres, and 5,000 metres. At Torino in 2006, a team pursuit was added for both men and women. Similar to the team pursuit in cycling, three skaters raced together, and could win either by overtaking the other team, or simply by finishing first in the heat. Men raced over 8 laps (a bit less than 3,200 metres) and women over 6 laps (a bit less than 2,400 metres).
Olympic speed skating has almost always been contested in the European system of skating time trials in two-man pairs. In 1932 at Lake Placid, the Americans convinced the ISU to hold the events in the North American style of pack racing. Many Europeans boycotted the events as a result and the Americans won all four gold medals. This style of the sport, however, was later to develop into short-track speed skating, which was admitted to the Olympic program in 1992.
Speed skating is governed internationally by the International Skating Union (ISU), which was founded in July 1892, making it the oldest winter sport IF. The ISU governs all skating on the Olympic Program – figure skating, speed skating, and short-track speed skating. As of November 2013, the ISU lists itself as having 87 affiliated national federations, but this is only technically correct. There are actually only 68 nations affiliated with the ISU, as follows: Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, DPR Korea (North), Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Grenada, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United States, and Uzbekistan.
Seventeen nations have two federations – one for figure skating, and one for speed skating. These seventeen nations are: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United States. This would make 85 affiliated federations, but the ISU also recognizes two “Club” members, who were among the earliest members of the ISU. These “Club” members represent Stockholm, Sweden (Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb) (1892) and Davos, Switzerland (Internationaler Schlittsschuh-Club Davos) (1896).