Olympic History: Speed skating has been on the program of every Olympic Winter Games, always contested in paired two-person time trials over a track of 400 metres in length, with one exception. In 1932, the Olympic Winter Games were held in Lake Placid, and the Americans changed the speed skating format, electing to race the events in the American style of mass-start pack racing. The Europeans protested and several of them, notably Finnish speed skating legend Clas Thunberg, refused to attend, but the Lake Placid Organizing Committee persisted and the events were held in that manner.
Speed skating in the United States and Canada has almost always been skated in mass-start pack races. It is often contested indoors in this manner, but even the outdoor races were often held pack-style. The style is actually more exciting than two-person time trials, because the risks are high, and the pack allows for drafting and bursts of very high speed.
In the 1970s short-track speed skating developed as a fully indoor sport in the American mass-start pack style. The first international competition in short-track took place in Champaign, Illinois (USA) in 1976. The sport’s popularity spread to Europe as well as North America and official World Championships were first held in 1978. It is not well known that Bonnie Blair, who won five gold medals in full-track speed skating, started out and won the 1986 World Championships in short-track.
Short-track speed skating was a demonstration sport at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games in Calgary. It was added to the Olympic program as a full medal sport in 1992 at Albertville. The program originally had one individual race and one relay race for men and women. However, at Lillehammer (1994) and Nagano (1998), a second individual race was added. For Salt Lake City in 2002, the individual 1,500 metres for men and women was added to the short-track speed skating program. The program is almost the same for men and women with both racing individually over 500 metres, 1,000 metres, 1,500 metres, and a relay (5,000 metres for men, 3,000 metres for women).
The length of the indoor track for short-track speed skating has varied over the years. It was initially set at 125 metres in 1967, but later changed to 110 metres (1977) and in 1980, changed to its current length – the rather unusual distance of 111.12 metres, which is nine laps to the kilometre, but corresponds to no known Imperial distance of any significance.
Short-track speedskating 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).