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Winter Olympics 101: Figure Skating, Speed Skating and Short Track

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by Alicia Dziak

On Feb. 6, the world’s eyes will be on Sochi, Russia, marking the beginning of the Opening Ceremonies of the XXII Olympic Winter Games!

Several of the events include athletes gliding on ice, aiming for speed, grace and the gold medal.

Figure Skating

Figure skating is the oldest discipline in the Olympic Winter Games, making the first appearance in 1908.

Currently, the program includes various events: individual men’s and women’s, pairs, ice dancing, and teams.

Men’s and women’s single skating consists of a short program, which includes seven elements, and a free program, that includes jumps, spins and steps.

Mixed pairs skaters first perform a short program, which also includes seven elements, and then a free program, which includes lifts, spirals, throws and synchronized jumps. In mixed pairs, skaters are judged on the degree to which a pairs’ movements mirror one another.

Ice dancing is the only discipline that allows the use of music with vocals, and athletes are judged on how closely they adhere to the rhythm of the music and how they express the character of the music with appropriate emotion.

Team events entail representatives of the singles and pairs skating performing a short and free program, and in ice dancing, completion of a short and free dance.

Figure skating events are scheduled for Feb. 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 19 and 20.

Speed Skating

Men’s speed skating has been part of the Winter Games since 1924, with women’s speed skating introduced in 1960, and team speed skating not making its debut until 2006.

The term “speed skating” explains the sport — athletes travel a specific distance as fast as possible.

Twelve sets of medals are awarded in speed skating: 10 individual distance events and two team races.

Both men and women compete in the 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter events. Men compete in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter events, and women compete in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter events.

In the individual events, skaters race in pairs on separate tracks (the inner and outer lanes). Athletes switch lanes at every lap in order to skate an equal distance.

Team events include three members per team. The men’s team event covers eight laps, and women’s team event covers six laps.

Speed skating events are scheduled for Feb. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18, 19, 21 and 22.

Short Track

Short track, a type of speed skating in which the athletes compete to cover a 111.12-meter oval ice track as quickly as possible, became an official Olympic sport in 1992. Short track athletes utilize skates that are higher than traditional racing skates and stiff gloves to protect the hands from being cut by the blades.

Short track skaters compete on an elimination basis, in heats of four at a time. After a group start, skaters race to be the first to the finish line. The winner is the one who gets there first and time is not a deciding factor.

Eight sets of medals are awarded: 500-, 1,000-, and 1,500-meter races (for both men and women), and relay races involving four-person teams at distances of 3,000 meters for women, and 5,000 meters for men.

Short track events are scheduled for Feb. 10, 13, 15, 18 and 21.

Sources: www.nbcolympics.com and www.sochi2014.com.

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