Australia and Olympic Speed Skating
Speed skater Kenneth Kennedy was the first Australian Winter Olympian when he competed at Garmisch-Partenkirchen Games in 1936. He competed in the 500m, 1500m and 5000m, placing 29th, 33rd and 33rd respectively.
In 1952, the brilliant reign of the colourful character Colin Hickey began. He sold newspapers to save enough money to buy his first pair of skates and took a ship to Norway at the age of 18 to train in the speed skating hub. He represented Australia at three consecutive Games; Oslo 1952, Cortina D’Ampezzo 1956 and Squaw Valley 1960. In 1956 he achieved Australia’s best Olympic result in the 500m and 1500m, placing seventh in both events.
Australia’s best performance came from Colin Coates, a speed skater who had received training from Hickey. At Innsbruck 1976, he finished sixth in the 10,000m. He also finished eighth in the 1500m, 10th in the 5000m, 11th in the 1000m and 23rd in the 500m. He was then 29, competing in his third Olympics. He went on to represent Australia a record six times by Calgary 1988, capping a 20 year Olympic career with his fastest 10,000 metres ever.
Sophie Muir made history at Vancouver 2010 as Australia’s first female speed skater. Muir was an inline skater and switched to the ice at the age of 25 and produced huge results to be selected for Vancouver just over a year later. Muir contested the 500m and 1000m finishing 29th and 30th respectively.
Daniel Grieg was Australia’s sole speed skater at Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018. Grieg had a character building Olympic debut in 2014 after he suffered every skater's worst nightmare when he fell in the opening seconds of his first 500m race - his pet event that he won a World Championship medal in just weeks before the Games – resulting in a 39th place finish. However he turned his performance around with a great 1000m race to finish 22nd.
After a string of injuries post Sochi, which threatened to end his career, Greig bounced back for PyeongChang to improve on his 500m result by 18 places and equal his personal best result for the 100m.The Victorian skater based in the Netherlands claimed 21st in the 500m and again finished 22nd in the 1000m
Long track speed skating, known colloquially as “speed skating” made its debut on the Olympic program at the first Games at Chamonix 1924 and has remained on the program ever since. All the early events, the 500m, 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m were for men. Women’s events were added to the program at the 1960 Games in Squaw Valley.
At the first Games there was also an event called the “omnium” which did not involve a competition, but rather awarded a title to the skater with the best overall results in the four events. This event was dropped after the Chamonix Games. A men’s 1000m was added at Innsbruck 1976.
With the addition of the Mass Start event at PyeongChang 2018, Speed skating consists of 14 events, which is the most number of events per sport at the Winter Olympic Games. They are the 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m and Mass-Start for both men and women, 10,000m for men, 3000m for women and team pursuit for men and women.
Speed skating is held on a 400m oval rink with skaters racing in lanes and in pairs. Their times are recorded and the best times over the distance win the medals. The pairs racing features a crossover each lap in which racers change lanes, hence eliminating the advantage of drawing an inside berth. As you would expect, strict rules oversee these crossovers to ensure there is no interference. Turns are also common areas for interference. A skater who is interfered with during the race receives the option to skate the distance again.
All events are skated once, with the exception of the men's and women's 500 metres, which are skated twice. The final result in the 500m is based on the total time of two races.