The final world championships of the speed skating season go this weekend in Calgary. They are called the the World Allrounds.
Every time a speed skating event is held in Calgary, especially a Worlds, there is buzz about who is skating fast and what world records could be on the line.
(The sport also has World Single Distances and World Sprints. Our ace researcher Paula Nichols does a top notch job of making the distinction here.)
The Olympic Oval in Calgary has become a mythic building. Construction finished in 1987 and from the 1988 Olympic Winter Games onward it became a fast destination for speed skaters and perhaps the ‘Fastest Ice on Earth.’
Calgary is 1,048 metres above sea level (3,438 ft) which reduces the amount of oxygen frozen into the ice making it denser and faster. Other factors are building climate control, skill of ice makers and quality of ice making equipment. There is also discussion about thinner air equalling less air resistance but this could be countered by the reality less oxygen makes it more difficult for the athletes, as their muscles will tire sooner in races.
In the late-90s, around the time Catriona Le May Doan was tearing it up, ‘the Oval’ would erupt with roaring crowds, cow bells, and record after record over fast ice. This was also the period when the clap-skate began re-writing the world record books.
Then the Utah Olympic Oval showed up.
It was built for Salt Lake City 2002 and completed in 2001. Going by the elevation measure for ‘fastest ice’, the Utah Olympic Oval is in Kearns, UT which is 1,380 m above sea level or 4,528 ft.
There are literally no speed skating world records, currently on the books, set anywhere else on earth. It’s either Calgary or Utah.
We’d argue the most fair (and perhaps simplest) manner to measure fastest ice would be to count current world records in each building. You could get into number of races overall, quality of athlete, type and timing of competition and more to really try and settle the argument.
Utah Olympic Oval – 9 world records (5 men’s, 4 women’s)
Calgary Olympic Oval – 3 world records (1 men’s, 2 women’s)
This is the way it stands right now. We counted all the commonly raced events from this complete list.
UPDATE: Denny Morrison set a new competition record in the 500m portion of the Allround in Calgary on Saturday.