Speedskating Basics and Rules

General Information

Short-track speedskating is the fastest, non-mechanically human-powered sport in the world. Athletes approach speeds of 30 mph as they race around an indoor, 111-meter track. The sport began in Canada and the United States in 1905. It was introduced at the Calgary Olympic Winter Games in 1988 and achieved full medal status in the 1992 Olympics in Albertville.

In typical international competitions, four to six skaters are on the ice at any given time and winners are determined by order of finish. Athletes participate in preliminary rounds of competition called “heats,” and advance to semifinals and finals. The top two skaters in each round progress to the next level of competition.


Strategy is different for each athlete in each distance. They rely on the knowledge of their own strengths and the strengths of competitors to strategize. Depending on their skills, a skater may, for example, sprint in a long race to tire competitors or they may choose to hang back and position themselves to sprint the final laps of the race. In the heat of competition, however, much planning goes out the window and athletes must think on their feet.

Race Distances

500 meters (4.5 laps)
This is the shortest race, so many false starts occur as athletes are anxious to get off the starting line and sprint to the finish.

1,000 meters (9laps)
Strategy comes into play as skaters position themselves for the sprint in the final few laps.

1,500 meters (13.5 laps)
Strategy and endurance are key as this is the longest race in the competition.


The race begins with the sound of a starter’s pistol firing. If a skater moves from the line before the pistol is fired, it is a false start and athletes must restart. A skater responsible for two false starts is disqualified. If an athlete falls before the mid-point of the first corner through no fault of his/her own, the starter may have skaters return to the line and begin again.


Passing takes instant acceleration, power, and strategy. Skaters can pass on the inside or outside of a competitor, but they must stay on the track. If they skate inside the boundaries defined by the track markers, they will be called for off-tracking. Athletes are also not allowed to impede other skaters by intentionally or unintentionally pushing, tripping, blocking or skating into an opponent. In addition, athletes who deliberately change their position to block others from passing will be charged with cross-tracking.  Finally, the skater in the lead has the right of way, even while he/she is being passed, so competitors coming from behind must adjust passing strategies accordingly.


Crash pads line the walls of the rink to protect athletes from serious injuries in the event of a fall. If a skater falls during a race and is uninjured, he/she may finish the race, but it is difficult to come back to win.


Skaters wear form-fitting, lycra skinsuits to reduce wind resistance. Built-in Kevlar patches protect vital body parts.

Athletes’ boots are molded from graphite and Kevlar to the form of their feet. They’re reinforced at the ankles to counteract centrifugal force.

Fourteen to eighteen inch blades are offset and curved to the left to assist with turning. The longer the blade, the more push skaters can get from the ice.

Protective Gear
Skaters wear various apparel to protect them as they race, including helmets, neck guards, gloves, knee pads and shin guards. Most athletes also wear glasses to reduce glare, and protect their eyes from wind and ice chips.