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Understanding Olympic Speed Skating

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Speed skating is another Olympic event that is not for the faint hearted. With athletes who are propelling themselves at high rates of speed in very close proximity to other athletes doing the very same thing, the risk for collision and injury is ever present. One has to imagine that hitting the side wall or the ice itself at such high speeds would be akin to being in a car crash minus the protection of the automobile. Even so, this sport is immensely popular and has been since the first competitions were held in the early days of the 20th century.

The first World Championships for speed skating were held in France in 1981. Since that time the sport has enjoyed a continual increase in participation and popularity. In short track speed skating competitors race against a field of other athletes (usually from 4-6) on a rink about the size of a standard hockey rink. The rink is marked with cones that the skater must stay within or face elimination. A series of races or “heats” take place in which the two fastest skater advance to the next heat. These heats continue until the field has been reduced to the final skaters who then compete in the race for the medals.

Short track relays involve two teams with 4 members who have replacements coming in as needed. One cannot begin skating until he has been tagged by the skater he is replacing. Men race for 5,000 meters and the women for 3,000 meters.

The U.S. favorite, Apollo Ohno has been keeping up a grueling training regiment to prepare himself for these events in the winter games at Vancouver. He arrived at the host city already holding 5 medals and with hopes of gaining 2 more which would make him the most decorated U.S. Olympic Athlete of all time. During the course of the games he has realized that incredible achievement and has added another gold and a bronze to his impressive collection.

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