Short track speed skating originated in 1905 in North America, and the first competitions took place in 1909. By the 1930s, crowds packed arenas to watch the thrilling sport, which was characterized by mass starts and breath-taking spills. Its popularity soon spread to other parts of the world and by 1967 the sport was recognized by the International Skating Union. The 1988 Olympic Winter Games marked short track’s debut as a demonstration event and full-medal status followed at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in Albertville.
In short track, competition takes place on a 111.12-metre oval track with a mass start of four to six skaters. Strategy and tactics play a big part in the race, and it’s often the smartest skater who wins, not the fastest. Skaters must finish among the top two in their heats, quarter-finals and semifinals to qualify for the finals.
Races are skated counter-clockwise between distances of 500 and 5,000 metres. Overtaking is allowed but the skater who overtakes is responsible for any collision or obstruction that results from the overtaking. If a skater is lapped, he or she may be moved to the outside track by the referee, and if lapped twice, must leave the race.
Eight teams take part in the short track speed skating relay, each with four skaters plus a substitute. Each team is also free to decide how many laps each of its athletes will race, though the two final laps must be covered by the same skater. It is unusual for an individual athlete to exceed one-and-a-half laps, giving a total of seven to eight changes per athlete. Only where there is a fall can a substitute be admitted in this final phase.