Speed Skating began as a rapid form of transportation across frozen lakes and rivers. It is one of the oldest branches of sport in the world and during the 19th century it developed in both Europe and North America into a modern, competitive sport becoming the fastest non- mechanical sport. Skaters can reach speeds over 50 km per hour (31 miles per hour) powered only by their body and especially their legs.
From woolly hats to skin tight aerodynamic racing suits and the introduction of the slap skate, Speed Skating has greatly evolved over the course of its 120 years of existence. Apart from the original four distance Championships for men, separate World Championships were introduced for women in 1936, for Sprinters in 1972 and for juniors in 1974. All of these Championships faithfully adhered to the principle of a World Championships with four distances.
Speed Skating made its debut on the Olympic programme at the 1924 Winter Games. For a long time, the Olympic Winter Games were the only occasion for Speed Skaters to gain titles in the individual distances. Only since 1996 has there been the ISU World Single Distances Championships every year, under the ISU flag. In 2005 the ISU introduced the Team Pursuit and ten years later the Team Sprint. In 2011 the Mass Start was introduced into official competition programs and will make its Olympic debut at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games.
The Dutch were arguably the earliest pioneers of skating. They began using canals to maintain communication by skating from village to village as far back as the 13th century. Skating eventually spread across the channel to England, and soon the first clubs and artificial rinks began to form. Passionate skaters included several kings of England, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon III and German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
The first known skating competition is thought to have been held in the Netherlands in 1676. However, the first official Speed Skating events were not held until 1863 in Oslo, Norway. In 1889, the Netherlands hosted the first World Championships, bringing together Dutch, Russian, American and English teams.
Today Speed Skating competitions take place all over the world. Europe and North America remain strong in the sport; however Japan, China and Korea have developed into power houses especially in sprint distances. With the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games around the corner, Asia will want to show that they have earned their spot on the international Speed Skating stage.