South Korean short track speedskaters practice during a training session in Gangneung. The sport is a huge draw in South Korea. (Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Q: What is short-track speedskating?


Short-track speedskating is a high-octane sport in which passing and crashing are common. It’s also relatively new to the Olympics.

South Korea’s Kim Ki-Hoon won the inaugural short track gold medal in Albertville, France, in 1992, and the country has been a powerhouse ever since. They’ve won as many short track gold medals (21) as the next three countries (China, Canada and the United States) combined. Viktor Ahn (who raced for South Korea until switching to the Russian team in 2011) is tied with American Apolo Ohno for the most short-track Olympic medals, with eight.

Q: How is short track different than long track?

As the name implies, the track is shorter (111.12 meters vs. 400). Short-track skaters start in groups, as opposed to pairs in long track (the exception being the new mass start event).

Q: What are the events?

There are eight short track events, four for men and four for women. Racers always skate counterclockwise, and timing is to the thousandth of a second.

Men’s and women’s 500 and 1,000 meters

These shorter races, for both men and women, are basically full out sprints, especially the 500, and a quick start is crucial. Both events begin with 32 skaters, and have the same format:
Round 1: Eight heats of four skaters, the top two from each advance.
Quarterfinals: Four groups of four skaters, the top two skaters from each advance.
Semifinals: Two groups of four skaters, the top two from each advance to the A final. The third and fourth place finishers go to the B final.
B final: Four skaters race for placement.
A final: Four skaters race for medals.

Men’s and women’s 1,500

This longer distance, for both men and women, involves more stamina, and strategy. The event has 36 skaters.
Round 1: Six heats of six racers, with the top three from each advancing.
Semifinals: Three groups of six, with the top two from each going to the A final. The third and fourth place finishers go to the B final.
B final: Six skaters race for placement.
A final: Six skaters race for medals.

Men’s and women’s relays

Eight teams, four skaters per team, compete in the 3,000 (women) and 5,000 (men). Each member must race at least one. But skaters tag their next teammate any time (except in the final two laps).
Semifinal: Two heats of four teams each. The top two teams advance to the A finals, the others go to the B finals.
B final: Four teams race for placement.
A final: Four teams race for medals.

Q: Where are the events being held?

All short-track speedskating will be held in the 12,000-seat Gangneung Ice Arena.

Q: Can you be disqualified?

Yes. While there’s plenty of bumping, short track technically is a no-contact sport. Impeding or endangering other skaters can get you disqualified, as can two false starts.

Disqualifications, however, aren’t always clear cut. At the 2002 Olympics, American Ohno became one of the most reviled athletes in South Korea when a controversial blocking call in the 1,500 race disqualified Korean Kim Dong-Sung, giving the gold to Ohno. South Korean fans flooded the U.S. Olympic Committee with so many emails that it shut down the organization’s servers for nine hours.

Q: Are there crashes?

Yes. Skaters crash relatively frequently, and often take other competitors with them. The injuries can sometimes be gruesome. American J.R. Celski, for example, almost missed the Vancouver Games when a skate blade sliced his leg open.

One of the stranger short-track crashes in Olympic history came at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. On the last turn of the men’s 1,000 medal final, all but one of the racers slid into the corner. Australia’s Steven Bradbury, who was sitting in last place, suddenly found himself with a clear path to gold.

Q: Who should I watch for?

The South Korean women won five medals in Sochi four years ago, and hope to continue their success on home ice. The team will be led by Shim Suk-Hee and Choi-Min Jeong, who, together, won world overall titles in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Watch for them to win multiple medals in PyeongChang as well.


Maame Biney of Reston, Va., made history as the first African American woman to qualify for the Olympics in short-track speedskating. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The South Korean men came out of Sochi without a single medal, and hope to rebound from the disappointment this year in PyeongChang. To do that, the team turns to five Olympic rookies, led by current world overall champion Seo-Yi Ra.

The United States also had a relatively lackluster showing in Sochi, winning only one medal (silver in the men’s relay). America should compete for at least a couple of podiums in PyeongChang, with three-time Olympic medalist J.R. Celski leading the comeback attempt.

The United States sent five Olympic rookies to PyeongChang, including 17-year old Maame Biney of Reston, Va. Born in Ghana, she moved to the United States when she was five and is the first African American woman to qualify for the U.S. short-track team. 

Other athletes to watch include Britain’s Elise Christie and Canadian Charles Hamelin and Marianne St-Gelais. The two Canadians are married and have seven Olympic medals between them. The couple will swap wedding bands while competing in PyeongChang.


Britain’s Elise Christie, center, skates with teammates during a practice at Gangneung Ice Arena. Christie was disqualified three times in Sochi four years ago. (Javier Etxezarreta/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Q: When is short-track speedskating contested, and how can I watch it on TV?

Events begin on the first full day of the Games, Feb. 10, and continue until Feb. 23.

All events will air on NBC and NBCSN, but only one will be shown live. Here is a schedule of the finals. Live telecasts are in bold. Races are also available by live-streaming or on the NBC Sports app. Daily TV listings can be found here.

Feb. 10: Men’s 1,500 meters, 7:28 a.m. (NBCSN, 5-7:35 a.m.; NBC, 3-6 p.m.)

Feb. 13: Women’s 500, 7:11 a.m. (NBCSN, 12:30-4:30 p.m.; NBC, 12:05-1:30 a.m.)

Feb. 17: Women’s 1,500, 7:11 a.m.; men’s 1,000, 7:26 a.m. (NBCSN, 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; NBC, 8-11 p.m.)

Feb. 20: Women’s 3,000 relay, 6:33 a.m. (NBCSN, noon-5 p.m.; NBC, 1:05-2 a.m.)

Feb. 22: Men’s 500, 6:18 a.m.; women’s 1,000, 6:23 a.m.; men’s 5,000 relay, 7:03 a.m. (NBCSN, 7:45-10:45 a.m., 10 p.m.-2 a.m.; NBC, 8 p.m.-midnight)

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