Men's speed skating was first included in the Olympic Winter Games in 1924. It was at the Olympics in 1960 that women first competed in speed skating. Team pursuit became part of the Olympic program only in 2006.
Speed Skating Today
In speed skating, athletes travel a defined distance as fast as possible. The traditional length of the track is 400 meters.
Speed skating at the Olympic Games consists of ten individual distance events and two team pursuit races. Men compete in 500, 1000, 1500, 5000, and 10,000 meter events, and complete 8 laps in the team pursuit race. Women compete in 500, 1000, 1500, 3000, and 5000 meter events and in a 6-lap team pursuit race. That means that 12 sets of medals are awarded in speed skating.
In the individual events, skaters race in pairs on separate tracks (the inner and outer lanes). Athletes switch lanes at every lap in order to skate an equal distance. The 500 meter race is skated twice, with both races taking place on the same day. The final result is based on the total time taken over the two races.
In the team pursuit races, men skate 8 laps, and women skate 6. Two teams of three members each take part in each race. The teams start all at once from different sides of the track. Each skater in a team "leads" the group for a time, skating in front to take on all the air resistance. Meanwhile, his partners fall in behind him. The race comes to an end only when the last skater on a team crosses the finish line.
Speed skaters use special "clap skates" with a blade that isn't attached to the boot. These boots are usually made of kangaroo leather.
Skaters wear skin-tight racing suits with hoods to reduce air resistance.