Speed skating, like really all Olympic events, is an incredible sport. Watching athletes race on the ice going faster than seems humanly possible is a site to behold. But how fast do speed skaters skate?
During the event, speed skaters race around a 400m oval track in pairs, one on the outside lane, the other on the inside. They swap positions at the end of each lap because the inner lane is slightly shorter than the outer. There are 14 speed skating events in PyeongChang, and 10 of them are against the clock.
Men compete in individual events of 500m, 1000m, 5,000m, and 10,000m. Women compete in individual events for 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 3,000m, and 5,000m. There’s also the team pursuit (two teams of three athletes each) and the mass start, which is a new event where up to 24 skaters line up on an open track and race for 16 laps.
As for the actual speed, it can vary depending on the skater and the type of race. Generally, speed skaters are going around 40 MPH. In an interview with ABC News, Olympic speed skater Nick Pearson said, “Speed skating is a sport that, if you watch it on TV, it’s hard to actually see how fast we are going. For a sprinter, which is a 500-meter skater, the guys get up to 40 miles an hour.”
Because they have to fly on the ice so fast, their wardrobes matter. Wired says, “As their muscular bodies cut through the air at more than 30 mph, they leave a trail of drag in their wake. The key to winning (against physics and humans alike) is to reduce the amount of air resistance a body produces. Part of it is stance — to minimize their body’s effect, skaters fold themselves over, keeping their backs flat like a table top — and part of it is suit.”
The difference between winning a gold or silver medal can often come down to a thousandth of a second – it’s that close.