The Fastest Sport in the World is.... Short Track Speedskating

Fun fact: Short Track speedskating is actually FASTER than long track!

Yep. Fact.

In fact, short track is the fastest human powered sport in the world* (under certain conditions - see below)

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But wait, you say, the world record in short track for the 500 meters is 39.9 seconds, vs. 33.9 in long track, and 24.8 in velodrome cycling…

Aha, let’s break that down a bit. First of all, short track and long track speedskating times include a standing start - the 500m world record in cycling is a flying start. So to make comparisons fairer, we’ll have to use the shortest standing start event in cycling - the 1000 meter “kilo."

So to compare let’s use the fastest lap time for each event:

  • 7.9 seconds for 111 meters in short track (J. R. Celski)
  • 24.3 seconds for 400 meters in long track (Pavel Kulizhnikov)
  • 18.8 seconds for 333 meters on the cycling velodrome (Francois Pervis: this is 1/3 of his WR kilo time - the shortest event with a standing start for comparison purposes)

So doing the math on these nominal times and distances and converting to meters a second (X meters/lap time) we get the following speeds which we convert to MPH (MPH ((= X m/s * 3600s / 1000m) * 0.62 m/km)

  • 14.1 m/s for short track speedskating or 31.3 MPH
  • 16.2 m/s for long track speedskating or 36.2 MPH
  • 17.7 m/s for velodrome cycling or 39.6 MPH

All this makes intuitive sense. Naturally, you go fastest on a bike, and you can’t go as fast in a hockey rink… right? Wrong. There’s a missing calculation. Despite the nominal track size, the athletes sometimes travel a distance different than the actual track dimensions. Great cyclists ride right on the pole lane and even dip below it, so they travel nearly exactly the distance of the event. Long track skaters swing wide on the inners, less so on the outers, and by my calculations skate about 412M per lap in a sprint event. But short track speedskaters? Watching the 500m races from the last few world championships, the skaters are board-to-board on a 30M wide rink. Adjusting for the pads, they skate (conservatively) corners 26 meters wide vs. the 16 meter wide corner blocks. 2πr gives us the distance they actually skate. Instead of the nominal distance of 25 meters around the corners, they actually skate about 41 meters per corner or about 142 meters per lap. Now, plugging these “real” distances back in the formula above, here’s what we get for actual speeds:

  • 24.3 seconds for 412 meters in long track speedskating = 16.7 m/s or 37.3 MPH
  • 18.8 seconds for 333 meters in velodrome cycling = 17.7 m/s or 39.6 MPH
  • 7.9 seconds for 142 meters in short track speedskating = 18.0 m/s or 40.2 MPH

So, there you have it. Short Track speedskating is the fastest human powered sport in the world.*

*For for the fastest recorded single lap in a standing start event. For pure top speed, cycling is the easy winner, with match sprinters topping 48mph.

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