Kelli Bamforth
February 09, 2018 9:47 am

The time is finally here. After spending years practicing in the rink, short track speed skaters — including Maame Biney, the first black woman to qualify for the U.S. Olympic short track speed skating team — are about to compete on the world’s biggest athletic stage. There’s just one question before Biney and her fellow athletes take to the ice. What is short track speed skating, exactly?

Short track speed skating was originally a demonstration sport before becoming an official Olympic event in 1992. At the 2018 Winter Olympics, there will be a total of eight short track events, four for the men’s team and four for the women’s team. Both teams participate in a four-person relay race (3,000 meters for women and 5,000 meters for men) in which each skater must do at least one lap. Skaters tag each other to switch positions. On the individual side, the race distances are 500 meters, 1,000 meters, and 1,500 meters.

The sheer speed with which these athletes move means short track speed skating can be dangerous. Collisions and wipeouts aren’t uncommon, and competitors wear extra padding and helmets for added protection. So if you thought these events were way less exciting than, say, bobsleigh or skeleton, you’d definitely be wrong!

Unlike other sports (figure skating comes to mind), the path to victory here is pretty simple. The first skater to cross the finish line wins.

Short track skaters compete on a 111.12-meter track, as opposed to the 400 meters in long track racing. With the greater distances, skaters must employ both speed and strategy to win, as you want to conserve your energy at first. But in the 500-meter race, a powerful start is what matters most, according to Biney.

Harry How / Getty Images

Biney would know: At the U.S. trials in December, Biney won all of her races except for one. Her fastest time was 43.161 seconds, faster than any Olympic gold medal-winner since short track speed skating was first introduced as an official event. Pretty impressive, huh?

If you want to catch Biney — or any other competitor — on the ice, here’s the full short track speed skating event schedule for the 2018 Olympics (all times are Eastern):

Saturday, Feb. 10th

  • 5-7:50 a.m. — Women’s 500 meter (qualifying), women’s 3,000 meter relay (qualifying), men’s 1,500 meter (all rounds)

Tuesday, Feb. 13th

  • 5-7:30 a.m. — Men’s 1,000 meter (qualifying), men’s 5,000 meter relay (qualifying), women’s 500 meter (all rounds)

Saturday, Feb. 17th

  • 5-7:55 a.m. — Women’s 1,500 meter (all rounds), men’s 1,000 meter (quarterfinals, semifinals, finals)

Tuesday, Feb. 20th

  • 5-7 a.m. — Women’s 1,000 meter (qualifying), men’s 500 meter (qualifying), women’s 3,000 meter relay (finals)

Thursday, Feb. 22nd

  • 5-7:45 a.m. — Men’s 500 meter, women’s 1,000 meter (quarterfinals, semifinals, finals), men’s 5,000 meter relay (finals)

Happy Olympics!