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Skating in Full Gear: The Difference between Long Track and Short Track Speedskating Equipment
Posted by tedwards On Thu 28 Aug, 2014

It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to become a professional speedskater. Speedskaters are no strangers when it comes to sacrifice. Both long track and short track speedskaters must have endurance, technique, and nerves of steel. But before they even step onto the ice, they must have the right equipment. To the casual observer of speedskating, much of the equipment used by the athletes seems similar. However, if you take a closer look, you’ll notice several differences between the two. Because of the pack-style races that take place in short track, the risk of falls and collisions is much higher than in long track. For this reason, short track speedskaters are required to wear protective gear that long track speedskaters don’t have to worry about, and they wear different skates as well.
The Skates
Short Track speedskating blades Short Track Speed skates have two main components: the boot and the blade. Long track boots are not as stiff as short track boots, and are worn lower on the ankle. Short track boots, on the other hand, are stiffer to give short track skaters the support they need when going fast around tight corners. But what makes short track and long track skates so different is the blades themselves. Short track speedskating blades are fixed, meaning they are attached to the boot at both the heel and just behind the toe. Short track blades are also offset to the left more than long track blades, allowing skaters to lean down close to the ice when they take those tight corners.

Clap Blades
Short Track speedskating blades Long track blades are attached to the boot only at the front with a spring-loaded, hinged apparatus, and not at the heel. Long track blades are specifically designed to follow a skater’s natural range of motion. At the end of each long track skater’s stride, when the blade has fully extended, the blade snaps back into place against the boot, causing a “clap” sound. Thus, long track blades are also known as “clap” blades. The blade’s design allows the skater to push through the toe, so they can gain more leverage from each stride. And because long track blades are able to stay on the ice longer, a skater’s pushing power is increased, giving them more power in each stride. It’s also interesting to note that because the turns in long track aren’t as tight as those in short track, long track speedskaters don’t have to get as close to the ice as short track skaters. For this reason, long track blades aren’t offset as far to the left as short track blades.

Skin Suits
Long track skin suitThe skin suits worn by speedskaters are worn close to the skin. And while it may appear that their main purpose is to show off skaters’ massive muscles, both short track and long track skin suits are designed with specific purposes in mind. Long track skin suits are made with hoods, and high-end long track suits are made with special material specifically designed to reduce wind resistance and drag. This makes long track suits more aerodynamic, and increases skaters’ overall speed.
Short track skin suit Short track skin suits, on the other hand, are designed to give skaters comfort and maneuverability. And due to the risk of falls and collisions in short track, the ISU—the governing body for speedskating—requires that short track speedskaters wear skin suits made from cut-resistant material. Cut-resistant material can either be integrated into the skin suit itself, or worn as a protective layer under the skin suit. The ISU also requires that particularly vulnerable areas of the body be protected. These include the neck, groin, axillar region, gluteal region, lower arms, hands, and the back and front of the knees. And while cut-resistant suits can’t prevent cuts and puncture wounds, they help to minimize the risk and keep short track skaters safer on the ice.  

Helmets and Other Protective Gear
In addition to cut-resistant skin suits, short track speedskaters are required to wear additional protective gear, such as helmets, cut-resistant neck guards, shin and knee guards (which are often built into the skin suit), and gloves. And if you look closely at the gloves worn by short track skaters, you’ll notice what look like plastic balls on the ends of the fingers. Because short track skaters must get low to skate fast around tight corners, they often place their hands on the ice to help maintain their balance. The hard fingertips of short track gloves help skater’s fingers glide on the ice during their turns.  
A final component that you’ll notice accompanying many speedskater’s attire, both in long track and short track, is protective eyewear. Not only do glasses protect skater’s eyes from wind and ice chips, but they reduce the glare from surrounding lighting, improving visibility for skaters.
Just how Dangerous is Short Track? Ask J.R. Celski.
JR Celski - US Short Track Speed Skating Championships

All this talk about protective gear has probably got you wondering, just how dangerous could short track speed skating really be? Just ask J.R. Celski. In September 2009, during the Olympic short track team trials, J.R. fell during the 500 meter semifinal race. His right skate blade gashed his left thigh, producing a cut six inches long and two inches deep. His skate blade cut all the way down to the bone and missed his femoral artery by an inch. J.R.’s injury required emergency surgery, including 60 stitches, followed by months of rehabilitation to get him ready for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Following his recovery, J.R. went on to win two bronze medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Borzilleri, Meri-Jo. “J.R. Celski poised for return after gruesome injury.” Seattle Times. February 7, 2010.

Accessed June 23, 2014.
www.isu.org. “International Skating Union Special Regulations & Technical Rules: Speed Skating and Short Track Speed Skating 2012.” Accessed June 20, 2014.

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