"I enjoy trying to reach my full potential in something as healthy as sports.
I love to compete, and being an athlete beats having a 9-to-5 job!" says speed
skater Casey FitzRandolph.
Speed skating is a competitive sport where the goal is to achieve the fastest
possible speed on ice. People of all ages and skill levels can participate.
Speed skaters use specially designed skates and aerodynamic skin suits to
maximize their potential.
They are also very athletic individuals. They need powerful muscles for
strength, power and endurance.
FACT: Speed skating is the world's fastest self-propelled sport. That's
according to the Amateur Speed Skating Union of the United States.
No one knows for sure exactly when or where speed skating originated. It's
believed Vikings in Europe first developed skating itself as kind of an extension
to skiing. Historical records show the first metal blade attached to a boot
appeared in Holland in 1400.
Speed skating then became very popular in Holland and other parts of Europe.
It soon developed into the current style we see today. Speed skating is now
a very popular Olympic sport.
At one time, speed skating took place outdoors on frozen ponds and lakes.
But these days, it takes place indoors in arenas and other specially designed
ovals. The environment inside is usually warm and friendly, though competitors
are often intense and focused on the task at hand.
It's difficult to know exactly how many people are actively involved in
the sport. This is because not all speed skaters compete, and therefore don't
always register as members of associations or clubs.
"As far as numbers of people involved in speed skating, that is really
a nebulous number," says Shirley Yates. She is the national secretary for
the Amateur Speed Skating Union.
"We have about 1,500 registered competitors, another 500 officials and
non-competitors, and probably 500 to 1,000 who never register but who feel
they are involved."
Jack Jayner is in the Speed Skating Canada Hall of Fame. "My impression
is Canadian registrations are at 5,500; United States [registrations] are
at 2,500," he says. "Unregistered Canadians skating recreationally: a wild
guess of 3,000."
There are two main styles in speed skating: long track and short track.
Long track is skated on a 400-meter oval. Two skaters compete for time in
distances between 500 and 10,000 meters.
Short track is skated on Olympic-size hockey rinks. Four to six skaters
compete head to head, and whoever crosses the finish line first wins! Short
track skaters can achieve speeds of 25 miles per hour.
The only real trend in speed skating is that skaters continue to find ways
to go faster and faster. Equipment, particularly the skates, continues to
"All the skaters on the international circuit are on 'clap' skates now,"
"Clap skates are skates that have a blade that detaches from the heal of
the boot when you extend your toe at the end of each push. There is a spring
in the front that brings the blade back under the boot when you lift your
skate off the ice after the end of the push. This makes the clapping noise
that the skate is named after."
Speed skating isn't the most expensive sport to get into, but costs can
add up quickly. The skates cost the most, ranging anywhere from $200 to $1,000
-- and that's just for the boots! The blades will cost you an extra $100 to
Of course, if you want to look the part, you'll have to spend a few bucks
on a spiffy Spandex skin suit. They cost anywhere between $50 and $100. You'll
also need to spend another $100 or so on a helmet, gloves, shin pads and knee
Another expense you need to consider is the cost of joining a club. At
some clubs, you can pay as you go for ice time, $5 or $10 a session. Annual
memberships can cost a few hundred dollars.
As you might imagine, speed skating is a very rigorous sport that requires
substantial athletic ability. Speed skaters constantly work out to gain strength
and increase their stamina. In short, you need to be an all around good athlete
to be able to compete. The only obvious required skill is the ability to skate.
The rest is all hard work and dedication.
At first, it may not seem possible, but people with physical challenges
can and do participate in speed skating. It just depends on the challenge.
"Special Olympians regularly participate in the sport. I've seen one successfully
race in a non-S.O. category. I've skated with, and lost races to, a hearing-impaired
skater," says Jayner. "I skated recreationally with an elderly gent who had
a leg prosthesis!"
As with most competitive sports, injuries are not uncommon. Speed skaters
can often strain their hips and lower backs. Groin pulls are also common.
The best way to avoid these types of injuries is to stretch before you
skate. Other injuries can be more serious. Sharp skates can cut!
As well, bones can break when falling on hard ice at high speeds. Proper
padding equipment goes a long way towards preventing such injuries. A helmet
Speed skating is an amateur sport and an Olympic sport. There are no professional
speed skaters. That means speed skaters do not get paid to skate. Olympians
and others on national teams may be sponsored, but no one is directly paid
as a speed skater.
There are however, ways to become gainfully employed in the speed skating
environment. Mostly, paid positions would be found in coaching and officiating
Probably the best way to get started speed skating is to join a local club.
Some clubs will have skates and other equipment you can rent or try out.
There are speed skating clubs throughout the U.S. and Canada. Just look
in the phone book, or ask for information at a local arena. If there aren't
any clubs in your area, you may have to travel.
"Anyone interested in getting into speed skating should contact a club
in their community. They should be able to help you find the proper equipment,
assess your skill level, and basically get you started," says speed skater
As far as instruction is concerned, serious-minded beginners can find speed
skating coaches through local clubs. You can also check at the library for
Fitness and Speed Skating Times Online
International Skating Union
See what speed skaters are doing around the world
The International Olympic Committee
The official page