Speed Skating at Winter Olympics

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Since the inception of the Winter Olympic Games, speed skating has been a part of it. Speed skating was first introduced as a men’s only sport. For the first time, the women’s event was introduced in 1960.

When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was formed, International Skating Union (ISU), the main governing body of international skating was included as a recognized federation in its list.

It was only in 1908 Summer Olympics in London that it was seriously discussed. Even though figure skating was on the program, speed skating event was not contested. At the meeting of the delegates at the 1914 Olympic Congress, it was agreed that the 1916 Winter Olympic Games in Berlin, ice speed skating would be introduced in it. But these games could not be held and were cancelled due to World War I.

It was only then in 1924 at the International Winter Sports Week in Chamonix – retroactively named the Winter Olympics Games that the ice skating event was held. 5 speed skating events were held at that time. Unusual for that time, an all round competition was included in it. Medals were also awarded for the individual events that were held, namely 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m and 10000m. The all round event was taken out before the 1928 winter games. The establishment of single distance World Championship was not until 1996.

The first Olympic gold medal was won by an American named Charles Jewtraw from New York, even though a number of Norwegians present there said that Oskar Olsen had performed better. The electronic clocks arrived in 1960s, till then the timing of the 500m event remained an issue within the sport. The other remaining 4 gold medals were won by Finland at the 1924 Winter Games. Clas Thunberg won gold medals in 1500m, 5000m and the all round event.

The speed skating events of the 1932 games were held according to the rules laid down by the American speed skating federation. This meant that the skaters competed with each other in small packs. This was against the usually common least time wins format.

By 1930s ISU had started to accept women in speed skating competitions. Although it was only as a demonstration event, the games held in Lake Placid, New York, gave the glimpse of the first women speed skaters at the Olympics. The women’s speed skating event were planed to be held at the 1940 Winter Games but were eventually cancelled due to the World War II. After the end of the war the events were not held until 1960. The event comprised of women competing in 500 m, 1000 m, 1500 m and 3000 m categories.

The latest entry is team pursuit which was added to the list of programs of speed skating in the Olympics. The team pursuit was first introduced in the Turin Games in 2006. Although it had not been contested in any of the senior World Championship, it was still included in it.

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