Speedskating 101: What you need to know when watching Richardson race
Just because High Point has produced a two-time Olympic speedskater doesn’t necessarily mean we’re experts when it comes to understanding the sport.
The fact is, no matter how many of us tune in to watch Heather Richardson race for a gold medal — and that will be a bunch of us — most of us will be watching a sport we only see once every four years (when the Olympics are on television) and one we don’t know a lot about.
Obviously, ice speedskating is not as obscure as, say, curling or the biathlon, but there are still a few things you might want to know as you’re tuning in to watch. Here are 10 things you need to know:
1. Yes, the speediest skater wins — it is called speedskating, after all — and Richardson ranks among the speediest women in the world. She’s the current world sprint champion, and she has set national records in all three of her individual races — at 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters — so it’s certainly no stretch of the imagination to think she could win at least one gold medal, if not more.
2. Richardson is a long-track skater, meaning she competes on a 400-meter oval. Short tracks, obviously, are much smaller.
3. Skaters compete wearing skin-tight, hooded body suits which are designed to be as aerodynamic as possible. Specifically, the suit being worn by the U.S. team in Sochi, known as the “Mach 39,” was designed by Under Armour and Lockheed Martin — yes, the aerospace technology company — a process that included more than 300 hours of wind tunnel testing. It seems elaborate, but in a sport in which half a second can mean the difference between medaling and not, every advantage helps.
4. Skaters also wear what’s known as a clap skate, in which the toe is secured to the blade, but not the heel. This lets the skater’s heel rise even as the full blade remains on the ice, another small detail that can shave fractions off of a skater’s time.
5. Skaters compete two at a time on separate tracks — the inner and outer lanes of the oval — switching lanes after every lap so that they’re skating an equal distance. They’re required to change lanes without interfering with each other, and should they reach the lane-switch point at the same time, the skater in the inside lane has the right of way.
6. For Richardson’s first event, the 500, she’ll actually skate twice — both races will be this morning — and the final results will be based on her combined times. She’ll only race one time apiece in the other two individual events.
7. Don’t turn away during the 500, or you could miss half the race — Richardson’s national-record time is 37.12 seconds. By contrast, her record times for the 1,000 and 1,500 are 1:13.09 and 1:53.84, respectively.
8. Richardson will also compete in an event called the team pursuit, in which teams of three compete — two teams at a time — using drafting techniques to finish six laps (eight laps for men) as quickly as possible. Richardson’s team is not expected to medal in this competition.
9. Richardson and her friend, Brittany Bowe, are at the forefront of a renaissance in women’s speedskating. In the 500, for example, no U.S. woman has won Olympic gold since Bonnie Blair did it in 1994, but either of the Americans could pull it off in Sochi.
10. Richardson’s fiance, Dutch speedskater Jorrit Bergsma, has already beaten her to the podium, winning a bronze medal in the men’s 5,000-meter event over the weekend. She was there to support him, so don’t be surprised to see him at her events, too.
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Want to watch?
Here’s the lineup for when U.S. speedskater Heather Richardson — a High Point native — will compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics, along with information about when you can watch her on TV (all times are Eastern Standard Time):
• Tuesday: Richardson will race in the 500-meter competition, which actually consists of two races. The races will begin at 7:45 a.m. and 9:34 a.m., and the final result will be based on the total time taken over the two races. The event is scheduled to air that night on NBC between 12:05 and 1:05 a.m.
• Thursday: Richardson will race in the 1,000-meter competition — her favorite event and her best chance for a gold medal — which begins at 9 a.m. The event is scheduled to air that night on NBC between 8 and 11:30 p.m.
• Feb. 16: Richardson will race in the 1,500-meter competition, which begins at 9 a.m. The event is scheduled to air that afternoon between 3 and 6 p.m.
• Feb. 21: Richardson and her teammates will compete in the team pursuit competition, which begins at 9:23 a.m. The event is scheduled to air that night between 1 and 2 a.m.
Should Team USA qualify, the team pursuit semifinals will be held Feb. 22 at 8:30 a.m., with the finals taking place at 9:14 a.m. The event is scheduled to air that night between 8 and 11:30 p.m.
• Feb. 23: The closing ceremonies will air from 8 to 11 p.m.
Want to follow Heather Richardson on Twitter and see her posts and photos from Sochi? You can follow her at @hlynnrichardson.