Speed skaters compete over different distances. There are short track speed skating races, long track speed skating races and marathon speed skating races'

At the Olympics the long track races are called 'speed skating' and the short track speed skating races are known as 'short track'

Skaters race around a 400-metre oval with two lanes, over distances ranging from 500 metres to 10 000 metres.

Only two competitors skate at the same time.

Each must stay in his or her own lane but the two must swap lanes after each lap so that they both cover the same distance.

Only two speed skaters compete at the same time. © Getty Images

Only two speed skaters compete at the same time. © Getty Images

Using their arms for balance on the curves, they crouch low, taking long, smooth strides. Speed skaters can reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour.

They race against each other but after all the skaters have had their turn, the one with the fastest time wins the competition.

In indoor racing events, speed skaters wear helmets and close-fitting clothing. Getty

In indoor racing events, speed skaters wear helmets and close-fitting clothing. Getty

In short-track events groups of skaters, usually four on each team, race against each other. The first skater to cross the finish line in the final race is the winner.

Speed skaters wear body-hugging clothing and helmets to reduce wind resistance.

History of speed skating

  • In the Netherlands and Scandinavia, thousands of years ago, the native peoples put bones to their shoes and used them to skate on frozen rivers, canals and lakes. For them it was a means of getting from one place to another. Skating for fun came later, in the 16th century.

  • In 1592, a Scotsman designed a skate with an iron blade. The use of iron-bladed skates led to the spread of skating for fun and competition.

  • The first official skating club was The Skating Club Of Edinburgh. And in 1763 the first official speed skating race was organized in England.

  • By the start of the 20th century, skating and speed skating had become an internationally popular sporting activity.

  • Speed skating was an Olympic sport in 1924. Short track speed skating became an official Olympic event in 1992.

Read about speed skating at the winter Olympics and watch a video:

http://www.olympic.org/speed-skating