With a multitude of storylines and stars poised to pop, Olympic long-track speedskating promises to be one of the most anticipated and watched events of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Competition will take place across five men’s and women’s individual events as well as a team pursuit race, with much of the focus centering on the 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter events where the biggest American stars are likely to shine.
Chief among those is American Shani Davis, who is seeking a third straight gold in the 1,000 meters as well as a first triumph in the 1,500-meter event after winning silver in the 2010 Vancouver Games. He’s joined by Heather Richardson, who will challenge for medals in all three of those events on the women’s side. Good friend and competitor Brittany Bowe is also seeking a multiple-medal haul in those events.
As a team, the United States is looking to better its four-medal performance in Vancouver, where the women failed to win a single medal. If that changes in Sochi, the Yanks have a great chance to increase their medal total and provide a lift to the country’s overall count.
As always, the Germans, Dutch and South Koreans will be among the most formidable delegations in Russia, and all three have multiple favorites across a number of competitions, headlined by the likes of the Netherlands' Sven Kraker and German Claudia Pechstein.
The action gets underway on Feb. 8 and runs all the way through the Feb. 21 where the exciting team pursuit competitions will close out the action on the large oval.
Long-track speedskating is the ultimate test of speed and endurance, pitting skaters against one another in timed competition around an oval at predetermined distances. The competition takes place on a two-lane, 400-meter track similar to a standard outdoor track and field facility.
Unlike short-track racing where groups of skaters compete at the same time and are allowed to weave in and out of lanes, long-track features just two skaters starting alongside one another in designated lanes. The skaters may move between lanes during the straightaways but not during the turns in the track.
While racing against one another, the primary objective is to finish the race as fast as possible. Skaters advance to medal rounds based on the time of their skates rather than their actual head-to-head finish in a particular race.
Olympic competition takes place in several men’s and women’s individual distances and one team pursuit race for both genders as well.
Men compete in distances of 500 1,000, 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 meters, as well as a team pursuit competition of 3,200 meters. Likewise, women race at distances of 500, 1,000, 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 meters. The women’s team pursuit distance is 2,400 meters.
Speedskating has long been among the most popular competitions in the Winter Olympics given its demands on speed and endurance and its race-to-the-finish-line excitement.
The origins of the sport date back to the late 19th century in Norway, and it became an official men’s Olympic event in 1924. Women began Olympic competition in the 1960 Squaw Valley Games.
For a long time, speedskating was only an individual Olympic sport, but in 2006, a team pursuit competition was added for both the men's and women's teams.
By and large, Olympic competition has been dominated by Europeans, with strong showings typically coming from Norwegian, German and Dutch skaters. The United States has also enjoyed a rich history in the sport behind stars such as Eric Heiden, Bonnie Blair, Dan Jansen and now Davis.
The United States men have captured nine medals in the past two Olympics, led by two 1,000-meter triumphs by Davis at the Turin and Vancouver Games and a gold-medal performance by Joey Cheek at Turin in 2006.
Long-track speedskating has produced the most-decorated American female Olympian in Blair, who captured five gold medals and a bronze during her Olympic career, which culminated with a pair of gold-medal skates in the 1994 Lillehammer Games.
Heiden provided the most dominant long-track performance of all time in the 1980 Olympic Games. The skater captured the gold medal in the 500-, 1,000-, 1,500-, 5,000- and 10,000-meter races in a demonstration of athleticism that is among the greatest in Winter Olympic history.
With its multiple events on both the men’s and women’s side, long-track speedskating will have a strong presence throughout the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The action gets started on Saturday, Feb. 8 with the men’s 5,000 meters and continues through the team pursuits on Feb. 21. Much of the action will take place on the NBC family of stations, so check the television schedule for the most up-to-date listings.
Feb. 8: Men’s 5,000 meters, 6:30 a.m. ET
Feb. 9: Women’s 3,000 meters, 6:30 a.m. ET
Feb 10: Men’s 500 meters, 8 a.m. ET
Feb. 11: Women’s 500 meters, 7:45 a.m. ET
Feb. 12: Men’s 1,000 meters, 9 a.m. ET
Feb. 13: Women’s 1,000 meters, 9 a.m. ET
Feb. 15: Men’s 1,500 meters, 8:30 a.m. ET
Feb. 16: Women’s 1,500 meters, 9 a.m. ET
Feb. 18: Men’s 10,000 meters, 8 a.m. ET
Feb. 19: Women’s 5,000 meters, 8:30 a.m. ET
Feb. 20: Men’s and Women’s Team Pursuit, 8:30 a.m. ET
Feb. 21: Men’s and Women’s Team Pursuit, 8:30 a.m. ET
For complete TV listings of these events click here.
All of the action will be streamed live here.
Davis is the face of American long-track speedskating, and in what is likely his final Olympics, he has two significant goals: win a third gold medal in the 1,000 meters and a first in the 1,500-meter competition.
Given the significant competition facing him, neither quest will be easy, but both will be the defining stories of the U.S. Olympic men’s long-track team in Sochi.
After failing to place in the top five in any of her three events at the Vancouver Olympics, Richardson heads to Russia as the top medal hopeful for the U.S. in all three of her events.
Richardson’s strengths are the 500- and 1,000-meter races, but she is improving in the 1,500-meter competition and could threaten there as well.
The American finished second to Richardson in three events at the U.S. Olympic Speedskating Trials in early January and is just as capable of winning gold in the 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter competitions as her friend Richardson is.
Their battles in those races will be one of the more interesting storylines of the long-track women’s competitions in the Sochi Games.
The Dutch skater easily took gold in 5,000 meters at the Vancouver Games and should have won the 10,000-meter competition as well. A coaching error cost Sven that race, but the disappointment has fueled the three-time Olympian's goal of winning gold in both races in Sochi.
He’s a heavy favorite to do it, but anything can happen in the Olympics as Kramer found out four years ago.
In a rather incredible display of longevity, the German skater is preparing for her sixth Winter Olympic Games, yet still remains a favorite in the women’s 3,000- and 5,000-meter competitions. The 41-year-old Pechstein was forced to miss the Vancouver Olympic Games due to an IOC ban for doping, a charge she denies to this day.
As a result, the nine-time Olympic medalist returns with a chip on her shoulder for one last run toward Olympic glory in Sochi.
Key Men’s Storylines
The United States was shut out in the 500-meter competition in Vancouver, and unless something unexpected happens in Sochi, the same result may well be forthcoming. Tucker Fredricks, who is the U.S. record holder in the 500 meters, is among the best hopes to turn those fortunes around, but he enters as a long shot to medal in Russia.
Headlining the event is 2010 surprise gold medalist Mo Tae-bum, who finished ahead of two Japanese challengers in Canada and comes to Russia seeking to become just the fourth man to repeat as the gold medalist in the 500 meters.
Mo has had a roller-coaster career since that unexpected triumph in Canada, but given his recent World Cup victory in the 500 meters, he is heading to Russia with plenty of momentum. In addition to Fredricks, a surprising challenge could materialize from Davis, who is looking to medal in three events in Sochi. Dutch twin brothers Michel and Ronald Mulder will also challenge for a medal.
Key Women’s Storylines
If American-favorite Richardson is going to claim multiple medals in Sochi, the 500 meters would be a good place to start. Speed is Richardson's strength, and that plays best in the shortest of the long-oval events.
The American women haven't medaled in long-track speedskating since the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, but the combination of Richardson and rising-star Bowe make changing that a real possibility in the 500 meters.
Just as in the men’s competition, it will be a defending champion from South Korea that will be the biggest barrier to gold. Lee Sang-hwa captured the event in Vancouver and is poised to become just the third female to ever repeat as gold medalist in the 500 meters.
In addition to Richardson, German standout Jenny Wolf promises to challenge Sang-hwa for the lead on the medal stand.
Davis enters the Sochi Games in search of his third gold medal in the 1,000 meters and is the odds-on favorite to do just that. The American has been a dominant force in the race during the past two Olympic Games, and if his performance in the U.S. Olympic trials is any indication, he will be difficult to beat this time around.
Davis became the first African-American male to win gold in the Winter Olympics in the 2006 Turin Games and then became the first man to defend Olympic gold in the 1,000 meters in Vancouver. To make it three in a row, the American will have to beat a familiar foe in Russia.
Korean Mo finished second to Davis in the 2010 Games and won the 1,000 meters at the World Cup in Berlin back in December. Feeling comfortable with his chances to win the 500, Mo has focused on preparing for the 1,000 meters with designs on unseating the accomplished American.
Given the Korean’s top form and focus heading into the Games, Davis will have to be at his best if a historic gold-medal three-peat is to be realized.
As they are in the 500, Richardson and Bowe will be front and center in the 1,000-meter competition as they attempt to provide the U.S with its first medal in the distance since Christine Witty captured gold in the Salt Lake City Games.
To duplicate that feat, the pair will have to topple 2010 Vancouver gold medalist Christine Nesbitt. The Canadian is seeking to become the first woman to repeat as 1,000-meter champion since Blair did it in 1994 but enters the 2014 Games off an uneven 2013 season on the ice.
Should Nesbitt stumble in Sochi, Dutchwoman Ireen Wust will be more than ready to take her place as the gold-medal favorite against the American duo of Richardson and Bowe.
After settling for silver medals in this event at the past two Olympic Games, Davis arrives in Sochi determined to break through with a gold medal in the 1,500 meters, which is among the toughest of the mid-distance long-track skates.
The American was favored in the past two 1,500-meter competitions, but he painfully came up a combined .70 seconds outside of gold at the Turin and Vancouver Games.
If that’s to change this time around, Davis will have to find a way to get past 2010 gold medalist Mark Tuitert, who bested the American in Vancouver without putting his best skate forward.
Tuitert, who will also challenge Davis in the 1,000 meters, has been inconsistent since his Vancouver triumph, but he is a solid part of what should be a strong Dutch squad in Russia.
Russian Denis Yukov is also searching for 1,500-meter glory on his home soil and is capable of winning gold.
Wust won the 1,500 meters in Vancouver and remains the favorite to capture gold in Sochi after winning the 2013 World Championships in the distance. The Dutch star will be seeking her third medal in the event in Russia and will be difficult to beat if she’s on her game.
While it’s a relative long shot, Richardson could challenge for a medal in the event, which in the past has not been among her best.
The American was strong in the distance at the U.S. Olympic trials, and given that much of the talent that challenged in the completion during the past couple of Olympics has moved on, Richardson’s experience could very well carry her to the medal stand.
Bowe is likely more of a threat in the 1,500 meters, and she is capable of challenging for gold. Fellow Dutchwoman Lotte van Beek is also someone to watch in the event.
Kramer claimed gold in the Vancouver Olympics and is the odds-on favorite to repeat in Sochi.
The Dutch star was dominant in capturing the gold in 2010, and given his disappointment in losing out on the 10,000-meter title in Canada, he will be supremely focused in Russia. He enters the Games undefeated in the 2013-14 International Skating Union World Cup season.
On the U.S. side, Jonathan Kuck is the skater to watch as he makes his second Olympic appearance. Kuck was part of the silver-medal-winning American pursuit team in Vancouver and has the potential to be a medal threat in Russia, although not likely a real challenge to Kramer.
One skater who is expected to challenge the Dutchman, however, is 2010 silver medalist Lee Seung-hoon. The South Korean pushed Kramer in Vancouver and is likely the only one who can do the same in Sochi.
Pechstein comes to Sochi determined to put her Olympic ban from the Vancouver Games behind her, and has the opportunity to win a 10th Olympic medal waiting in front of her. The veteran German skater is equally strong in both the 3,000 and 5,000 events but has staunch competition standing in front of her in both events.
Vancouver gold medalist Martina Sablikova is again the skater to beat in Sochi, and Wust is certainly a threat in the 3,000 meters as well.
The American effort will be led by Jilleanne Rookard, who returned from a brief retirement to win the 3,000 meters in the U.S. Olympic trials. A medal run by Rookard in Russia would be a great story, but it’s more likely that the American finishes outside of medal competition.
In fact, the United States women haven’t won a medal of any kind in the 3,000 meters since Beth Heiden in 1980.
Emery Lehman exceeded expectations by winning the 10,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials in January and could very well become a Sochi surprise in February.
The 17-year-old Illinois native defeated Kuck by the length of a skate in the event, and provided the moment isn't too big for him in Russia, he is a dark horse to medal in the competition, something the U.S. has done only once since Heiden’s gold-medal performance in 1980.
Lee captured the event in 2010 and is among the favorites to repeat that performance in the long-distance competition. Veteran speedskater Ivan Skobrev, who raced to the silver medal in Vancouver, is back to challenge Lee.
A trio of Dutch skaters, led by Kramer, could sweep the event if things go their way. Alongside Kramer is Bob de Jong and Jorrit Bergsma.
The women’s 5,000 event was introduced to the Olympics in 1988, and the United States has never medaled in the competition.
Maria Lamb will lead the Yanks’ effort in Russia, but she is not expected to end the drought in Sochi. As she is in the 3,000 meters, Sablikova is again the favorite and will be tested by Pechstein there as well.
Fellow German Stephanie Beckert captured three medals in the 2010 Vancouver Games, including a silver medal in the 5,000 meters and will certainly have something to say about who wins gold in Sochi.
The competition, which features eight laps around the track at a distance of 3,200 meters, is being contested for just the third time in Olympic history, and the powerful Dutch look to improve upon their bronze-medal showing at the Vancouver Games with Sochi gold.
The United States captured silver in Canada four years ago and returns a couple of members of that four-skater team in Brian Hansen and Kuck. If Lehman can provide strength to the back end of this year’s team, another medal could come for the Americans, but it would be unexpected.
The Canadians won gold in the event last time but will be hard-pressed to equal that performance in Sochi.
Women's teams will make six laps around the track to a total distance of 2,400 meters.
The Germans have absolutely dominated the team pursuit, winning the first two Olympic competitions in dominating fashion. The team soared to victory in Vancouver without perhaps its best skater in Pechstein, and with the veteran back for the 2014 Games, it is only going to be stronger. Three-time Olympic medalist Beckert will be a strong anchor for the heavy favorites.
Given their struggles in longer distances, the American women are not expected to challenge for a medal in Russia. The Dutch women and the South Koreans are among the other contenders in the event.
The U.S. captured four medals in the Vancouver Games, and the team’s ability to better that performance in Sochi is likely dependent on the performance of Richardson and Bowe on the women’s side.
Davis’ quest for a third straight title in the 1,000 meters, and a first gold in the 1,500, is certainly the attention-grabber surrounding the team. The American will likely deliver at least two medals in Russia. Richardson, however, has a great opportunity to steal the spotlight if she can break through with a medal or two in Sochi.
She will certainly be among the favorites in the 500 and 1,500 meters and has the potential to surprise in the 1,500-meter event as well. Richardson’s friend Bowe has the same potential, and the competition between the two, as well as against the rest of the world’s best, will be interesting to watch.
While little is expected of the U.S. skaters in the longer distances, especially on the ladies' side, Kuck and Lehman are worth keeping an eye on in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, respectively. Should one or both of those skaters medal unexpectedly, it could be a truly special Olympics for the U.S. team.
Ultimately, behind strong performances from Davis and Richardson, the U.S. could better its Vancouver medal haul by two medals, winning upward of six in Russia.
Men’s 500 Meters
Gold: Mo Tae-bum, South Korea
Silver: Joji Kato, Japan
Bronze: Ronald Mulder, Netherlands
Women’s 500 Meters
Gold: Lee Sang-hwa, South Korea
Silver: Heather Richardson, United States
Bronze: Jenny Wolf, Germany
Men’s 1,000 Meters
Gold: Shani Davis, United States
Silver: Mo Tae-bum, South Korea
Bronze: Denis Kuzin, Kazakhstan
Women’s 1,000 Meters
Gold: Heather Richardson, United States
Silver: Brittany Bowe, United States
Bronze: Irene Wust, Netherlands
Men’s 1,500 Meters
Gold: Shani Davis, United States
Silver: Denis Yukov, Russia
Bronze: Mark Tuitert, Netherlands
Women’s 1,500 Meters
Gold: Irene Wust, Netherlands
Silver: Brittany Bowe, United States
Bronze: Lotte van Beek, Netherlands
Men’s 5,000 Meters
Gold: Sven Kramer, Netherlands
Silver: Jorritt Bergsma, Netherlands
Bronze: Lee Seung-hoon, South Korea
Women’s 3,000 Meters
Gold: Martina Sablikova, Czech Republic
Silver: Claudia Pechstein, Germany
Bronze: Ireen Wust, Netherlands
Men’s 10,000 Meters
Gold: Sven Kramer, Netherlands
Silver: Jorrit Bergsma, Netherlands
Bronze: Bob de Jong, Netherlands
Women’s 5,000 Meters
Gold: Martina Sablikova, Czech Republic
Silver: Stephanie Beckert, Germany
Bronze: Cladia Pechstein, Germany
Men’s Team Pursuit
Silver: South Korea
Women’s Team Pursuit