Roller skating originated in 17th-century Holland. A Dutchman, disappointed at being unable to ice-skate when the canals had thawed, adapted a set of wooden wheels to his shoes and started “land skating”. The first skates, having all their wheels in a single row, are the true precursors of today’s inline skates that have gained great popularity and are now used almost exclusively in speed skating events.
Roller sports includes both roller speed skating and artistic – which is known now as roller figure skating. Speed skating events take place on a flat track surface and events range in distance from 300 to 20,000 metres. Depending on the distance, races are run as individual time trials, conventional mass start races, points races in which the skater with the most points at the end wins the race and elimination races (the last athlete to reach the line on certain laps is eliminated until there are 10 skaters remaining). There is also a combination points and elimination race.
Unlike its equivalent contested on ice, roller speed skating has no “lanes.” All races begin with a standing start, and the number of competitors on the line for each race or heat varies, depending on the size of the track and the type of race being skated. Each participant is timed individually, with the fastest time winning the race as his/her front wheels (which must remain on the skating surface) cross the finish line.
One cardinal rule applies above all others: athletes may be disqualified for blocking, pushing, holding, or hindering in any way the progress of another skater.