Ice skating was a method of transportation by Northern Europeans over the frozen canals and waterways. In 1763, the world's first organized speed skating race was held in England. The first recorded skating race in Canada took place in 1854, when three British Army officers raced on the frozen St. Lawrence River from Montreal to Quebec City. The first official speed skating event took place in 1863 in Oslo, with the first world championships held in the Netherlands in 1889. Since that competition, the 500-metre, 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 races are the same distances raced today. Speed skating debuted in the 1924 Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix, France.
In long track, skaters race in pairs counterclockwise on two lanes of a 400m oval track, and change lanes every lap to even out the distance. The skater moving from the outer lane to the inner lane has the right of way. The gliding skate (the one bearing the skater's weight) is not allowed to skate inside their individual lane markers. The skaters race against the clock in randomly selected pairs, and the one with the fastest time wins.
Short track speed skating originated in 1905 in North America, and the first competitions took place in 1909. This rough-and-tumble version of speed skating has races on shorter tracks, typically ice-hockey rinks. By the 1920's short track races were common, but did not get added to the Olympics until recently. In 1984, the event was officially titled Indoor Short Track Speed Skating, and in 1988, it was included as a demonstration event at the Calgary Winter Olympics and was a full medal event at the Winter Games in Albertville, France
The short track competition takes place on a 111.12-metre oval track with a mass start of four to six skaters. Starting positions are drawn and the first skater to reach the finish line wins. Strategy and tactics play a big part in the race, and it's often the smartest skater who wins, not the fastest. Skaters must finish among the top two in their heats, quarter finals and semifinals to qualify for the finals.
For speed skating, you'll need a pair of speed-skating skates (they have much longer blades), a helmet, knee pads, elbow pads and a pair of gloves. You can rent the equipment if you just want to try your hand at speed skating.
In 1997, the introduction of the Dutch clap-skate into long-track speed skating revolutionized the sport. On clap-skates, the blade is hinged at the toe, rather than permanently set, allowing the full length of the blade to stay in contact with the ice longer with each stride. Increased contact between blade and ice allows for a more natural gait, and results in a significant increase in speed.
Skates are often available new or used, either through sports shops, speed skating clubs or through the newspaper.