Short track speed skating is a form of competitive ice speed skating that occurs on a small oval track residing with the confines of a standard sized hockey rink. Races are contested pack-style, typically with four to six skaters moving counterclockwise. Skaters must navigate the congested dimensions and tight corners to execute skillful and well-timed passes.
To protect the athletes the outer perimeter is covered by protective mats. Start and finish lines are marked across the centre of each straightaway, with dots indicating the starting points for each lane. Seven rubber blocks called markers are placed around each of the corners to identify the track in use for each race. The track is switched every so often to avoid wearing out the ice too much in one area.
Opposed to simply racing the clock like long-track speed skating, Short-track’s objective is to simply finish ahead of one’s competitors. Along with skill and athleticism skaters need to employ tactics and race strategies to succeed.
A skater is not allowed to push, block, trip or otherwise impede a competitor. The lead skater has the right-of-way, so a passing skater may be penalized if they cause any body contact.
For shorter distances, skaters focus on a fast start as there is less time to pass and move up into a winning position. An early lead allows for a more efficient track pattern and likely a faster time.
A skater in the lead needs to work hard to avoid getting passed in the final laps. They may take wider turns to help build speed in the hopes of expanding a gap. If their opponents are within striking distance, the lead skater may use a more protective track to make passing more difficult.
A skater looking to make a pass can do so in two ways: by going inside or outside of their opponent’s track. An outside pass requires a lot of speed and energy and may take longer to execute. An inside pass is quicker but the skater must squeeze into a tight space between their opponents (or into the lead) while trying to avoid contact that might cause a spill and get them penalized.
Skaters are seeded based on performance (rankings and/or qualifying times) and placed into groups for each distance prior to the competition. The top-ranked skaters in each round earn the inner-most starting position.
The competition format outlines where a skater must finish in each race to advance to the subsequent round, based on the total number of participating skaters (e.g., the 1st and 2nd place skaters from each quarterfinal, and up to a maximum of the two fastest 3rd place skaters, advance to the semifinals). The referees can also advance a skater to the next round if he or she was impacted by a competitor who has been penalized.
Referees monitor each short track race to ensure that it is conducted safely and fairly. They have the power to penalize skaters for breaking rules, such as for false starts, impeding another skater or cutting inside the designated track.