Although skating is one of the most enjoyable sports in wintertime for kids and adults, skating did not start for fun. It was the easiest and most energy efficient way to travel on the frozen waters developed in the northern territories of Europe. It took a couple hundred years before some fun-loving guys in England started to look at ice skating as a fun sport activity.
The real brake through for skating came with the invention of a Scotsman in the shape of the first iron skate. Prior to that, skates were made of bones, which was neither durable nor too terribly efficient due to the quick wear-out of the blades. The introduction of the iron blade led to the spread of skating. In fact, Scots were so much a fan that the first official skating club opened in Edinburgh. North Americans picked up the sport and pushed it to perfection with developing the first all steel blade in 1851.
People figured out a bunch of great things on ice over the centuries from figure skating to ice hockey, some of which was elevated to the heights of Olympic sports rather early. The admittance of speed skating to the Olympic games was quite an adventurous story. The Olympic games of 1916 would have been the first one to adopt speed skating. Unfortunately, the cataclysm of World War I stepped in and overwrote the plans. Speed skating became an Olympic sport after all on one of the weirdest winter Olympic games, that was awarded Olympic status only retrospectively. This was the winter sports week in Chamonix in 1924.
Skating, as all winter sports, remained seasonal for a long time. The problem of producing proper quality artificial ice got solved only at the end of the 50s, and until then the games were held on natural waters. The 1960 Olympic games were the first to introduce artificial ice with major technical inventions. A refrigeration plant capable of heating 4,800 homes had to be built to generate and maintain the ice. The heat generated from the refrigeration plant was used to warm spectators, provide hot water, and melt the snow off of roofs.
Speed skating is a highly specialized sport. It requires a quite unnatural set of movements that are a challenge to sportsmen and women. There are three types of speed skating, short track, long track and marathon speed skating according to the length of the race. The three types are so different in several ways that even the equipment is not identical. Long track blades (also called as klap skates) are attached at only one point to the boot, while short track blades are firmly attached to the boot at two places. If that is not enough for fun, speed skates cannot be sharpened at a shop like most skates. Skaters sharpen their own skates by using a jig which is a frame to hold the skates in place while they are manually sharpened.
Short track is the most competitive of an already competitive sport. Skaters are required to wear a protective helmet and specific cut proof skating gloves because of the frequent bump accidents and sharpness of the blades.
Our recent blog post featured the fantastic Fort Dupont Ice Arena, where kids can learn to skate and believe in themselves, a skill that can change their lives in countless ways. Maame Biney, the sport history-making, bombastic 17 year old sport sensation who is the most promising talent of the US in speed skating, also learnt to skate here. We wanted to dig more into this competitive and intense sport inspired by their story. Salute to Maame and to the Friends of Fort Dupont Ice Arena to reach great success in such a competitive and intense sport.
Painting: Nicolaas Bauer, Women’s speed skating competition on the town canal at Leeuwarden, 1809
Source of cover photo: www.isu.org