Short Track Speedskating -- The Fastest Sport in the World

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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My "Intimate" Moment With Tonya Harding, and the Film, I Tonya

True story: when I first met Tonya Harding at the Lillehammer Winter Olympics, I was naked, and so was she...

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Last night I watched the amazing movie, I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding and it brought back so many memories and a couple déjà vu's. I can remember being in the arena down at ice level during the Lillehammer Olympics, watching Tonya rush out, late for her program, and then stop about a minute in to request a re-start due to a broken lace.

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The movie replay was perfect. The movie is funny and sad and is so over-the-top ridiculous that if you didn't know better would feel like complete fiction. It is a definite a must-see and will mostly likely change your perceptions of those infamous events. Over 24 years ago, Tonya Harding's ex-husband Jeff Gillooly hired two bumbling wanna-be mobsters (Shawn Eckhardt and Shane Stant) to whack Nancy Kerrigan on the knee so Tonya could be assured a spot on the Olympic team. Media blitzed the story especially a video snippet of Kerrigan sitting on the floor sobbing and screaming, "Why!? Why?!" 

A couple of months later after the story broke and I was at the Olympic village in Lillehammer.  The story continued to hold the headlines as new information was breaking daily including greater suspicion that Tonya may have had a role in the affair. I had met Nancy on a few occasions and was on friendly terms with her, but it seemed impolite to even inquire about the matter. 

The Olympic village is a safe haven with TV's, lounges, food, and even massage and physical therapy available 24/7. After a tough workout I decided to take advantage of the massage and entered the physical therapy area which featured dozens of massage tables in pairs each set facing one TV on a cart. As was the norm, I stripped down into just a towel and laid face down as the therapist began working on my calves and hamstrings. I watched coverage of skiing with a bit of glazed indifference and tried to relax. At some point, I heard some motion to my right and as I turned my head, I noticed someone had joined me on the second table. I knew it was a girl because of two towels and a blonde pony tail, but had no idea who it was. 

Just then two things happened. First the girl on the table next to me turned her head and our eyes locked - I was staring into the visage of none other than Tonya Harding. Just as that was sinking in another thing happened - on the TV, louder commentary intruded overtop the skiing that caused a hot rush of embarrassment to course through my veins, "Breaking news in the Nancy Kerrigan - Tonya Harding affair - new evidence  has emerged that suggests possible knowledge or even tacit approval by Tonya Harding for the attack on Nancy Kerrigan." I was mortified. For some reason I felt like a voyeur - like I had intruded into someone else's private and embarrassing affair that had made its way into the light of day and I began to subtly turn my head the other direction. 

Tonya had swiveled to see the TV, but the movement of my head caught her attention and she turned back to me raising her hand slighty to put me 'on pause' as her eyes moved over to the left side of the TV where the remote control was - just inches from my right hand. Her eyes returned to mine with excitement and with not even the remotest hint of embarrassment she spoke.

What she said next I'll never forget, "Turn it up!  Turn it up! - I want to hear this!" so... I did. You can't make this stuff up. That was my time with Tonya. 

Vancouver Journal #9: To walk or not to walk?

Vancouver Journal #9: Opening Ceremonies – to walk or not to walk? Monday, February 15, 2010

Years, even decades of training go into an Olympic bid, and most of the millions that attempt this feat fail to join the few thousand that do. Morning, afternoon and evening they suffer, sweating and straining in pursuit of a distant dream – a few remembered snapshots from childhood serving as the glowing grail for this quest.

For most, those images can be distilled down to two mental pictures that have kept them motivated all these years. First and foremost is the vision of climbing the podium, bending down to receive an Olympic medal to the roar of the crown and the tears of joy and relief from friends and family.

There is another dream though, one that is far more realistic for the thousands of Olympians here chasing dozens of medals, and that dream is to march in the opening ceremonies and witness the pageantry surrounding the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.

But this dream is fading: more and more athletes are skipping the opening ceremonies and the parade of nations has become a gentrified walk of coaches and staff.

Why? You might ask.

In pursuit of the primary dream, everything becomes secondary – the vision of that ephemeral medal becomes ever more singular and the lesser, more realistic dreams fall away. To walk in opening ceremonies is to be on your feet for 2 – 3 hours – certainly not on anyone’s list of “best preparation” techniques for an athletic competion. Many simply choose not to attend – which is certainly their right.

However, some are just banned from participating by coaches and staff. At least one team I’m aware of was banned by their NGB (national governing body) to walk in the opening ceremonies – probably dozens.

Then there is the middle ground, some are “guilted” out of going. For the U.S. Short Track team, they were told it would be “selfish” to walk.

Wait, you say, that’s terrible!

Well, perhaps it is not so simple. As a skater in the relay, three other people who have dedicated their life to this sport are relying on YOU to put in the performance of a lifetime – just to make it to the medal round. If a skater were to walk in the opening ceremony and fail to pull his or her weight during the race – and the team were to lose as a result, then yes, perhaps that would be selfish.

Further, there is the mental aspect – everyone is always trying to find that edge, a refrain in the brain saying “I’ll bet the Koreans are not walking,” starts to further frame the issue.

I’m very happy to have the memories of walking in the Lillehammer opening ceremonies and witnessing the spectacle of a ski jumper flying 100 meters through the air while carrying a flaming torch in his grasp…

But, I have to admit I would trade that memory in a second for the silver medal those games also provided.

Is there a solution to this quandary? One solution would be to require every competing athlete to walk in the opening ceremonies in order to even the playing field. This seems unlikely, but the second solution is potentially more realistic – what if they planned the opening ceremonies two days before the first event?

I’m reminded that the Olympic motto is "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the struggle.”

Still, has something gone missing?