Whatever you thought you knew about long-track speed skating, throw it out the window.
In contrast to previous races on the 400-meter oval, the mass start event will be completely new to the Olympic Games when it debuts next month in PyeongChang.
How does Mass Start Speed Skating Work
U.S. speedskater Joey Mantia put it best: “It’s like NASCAR on ice.” Bumping, drafting, and strategic manoeuvring are all in play…. In comparison to other long-track races, this one is a lot more interesting to witness.
Mass start, then, what is it? What it sounds like, Essentially.
Mass start begins with as many as 24 skaters who line up and start together, as opposed to the more common time trial format in which skaters compete in pairs against the clock. Following that, they compete in a 16-lap race to the finish, but there’s a catch.
In addition to the final sprint, there are three more spread out across the course of a mass start event. Each of these sprints has a top three finisher who receives points, as do the top three skaters overall.
Therefore, the top three finishers earn medals, while the remaining positions are assigned according to sprint points.
Races typically last about 7:30 minutes for men and a little over 8 minutes for women, so the entire duration will be filled with tactical skating, jockeying for position, and all-out sprints, especially near the finish line.
To put it another way, it’s not like any other Long track Race out there.
“You get to see the race evolve as it is occurring,” Mantia remarked.
U.S. teammate KC Boutiette chimed in, “There’s not one skater who won’t stay and watch it.”
The U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Long Track Speedskating culminate this week in Milwaukee with the mass start events for both men and women.
The teams will be decided based on a combination of this week’s results and those from the two races in the fall world cup qualifier.
In the men’s Competition, Several Athletes, Including Mantia and Boutiette, are in the Running for a Medal.
Boutiette was an early adopter of the “wheels-to-ice” concept in the ’90s and an Olympic Winter Games competitor through 2006.
Boutiette has gotten back into shape since the 2015 Olympics, when the mass start event was introduced. He would break the record for oldest Olympic speedskater set by Albert Tebbit of Great Britain in 1924, who was 52 years old.
The 31-year-old Mantia made the transition from inline to ice speedskating in 2011, and while he is competitive over a variety of distances, he considers the mass start to be “the ace under his sleeve.”
He explained, “It was something I was comfortable doing.” “Even if my time trialling efforts on the long track are not fruitful, I still have success in the mass start.”
In fact, Mantia finished last season as the world champion in the event (Boutiette was 12th). Another former inline skater, Heather Bergsma, placed third in the women’s race at the 2016 World Championships.
Starting a Large Number of People at once is not a Novel Idea.
All three of these winter sports—biathlon, cross-country skiing, and even short track speedskating—are based on the same fundamental idea. The 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid followed a long-standing North American tradition by holding long-track competition in heats of six skaters.
The International Olympic Committee declared in 2015 that mass start would be included in the next Olympic programme, and the ISU included it to the World Cup circuit beginning with the 2011-12 season.
For skaters like Bergsma, Boutiette, and Mantia, who had previously competed in inline events, this was a much-appreciated change.
Mass start is also used in the Olympic event short track, which was introduced in 1992 and comprises heats of up to six skaters racing on an oval track measuring 111.12 metres in length, to assist capture some of the thrill of the event.
Mass start differs significantly from short track in that it features more skaters, longer distances, and intermediate sprints to keep things interesting.
Athletes are reluctant of making predictions about how the Olympic races will go because mass start is still relatively new.
However, there are a few things we can say with Absolute Certainty.
There is little chance, for instance, of seeing a skater perform the trick of going from one wire to another.
The drafting is a process in which “you don’t want to be in the lead too early, too long,” Mantia added. If there are two laps left, then it’s acceptable. But not a moment sooner.
The issue of teamwork and the willingness of countries to cooperate must also be considered. Boutiette emerged from the second sprint as the race leader in November of 2016 in Japan and went for it.
Mantia, who was in the pack, slowed down, allowing Boutiette to place second.
At the global championships, however, Mantia was victorious instead of Xiong.
Just like a gentleman’s agreement, I think we’re on the same page,” Mantia remarked. When you’re in a strong position, you should strive to take the cake.
At the September Team USA Media Summit, Boutiette was more forthright, saying that Mantia is the United States’ greatest hope for a gold medal, and that he would do anything he could to aid Mantia in his push for the medal if he were in a position to do so.
Boutiette remarked, “Joey’s our best man.”
To paraphrase, “I know if I skate with Joey he could definitely get me on the podium, but I could get him on top as long as he is at 100 percent and the race plays about a certain way.” As things stand, I am willing to do that. But it’s imperative that we both make the cut.