Leave your preconceived notions about long track speedskating at the door. The mass start event will be the first of its kind on the Olympic 400-meter oval when it debuts next month in PyeongChang.
How does Mass Start Speed Skating Work
American speedskater Joey Mantia put it best: “It’s like NASCAR on ice.” Bumping, drafting, and strategic manoeuvring all play a role…. Spectating these events is much more fascinating than watching regular long-track races.
Then, what exactly is a Mass start? This means Precisely what it Sounds like it does.
Mass start begins with as many as 24 skaters who line up and start together, in contrast to the typical time trial method in which pairs of skaters race against the clock at the same time. Then, they compete in a 16-lap race to the end, but there’s a catch.
There are typically four intermediate sprints and a final sprint in a race with a mass start. All sprints and skating competitions award points to the first three finishers. The first three finishers are awarded medals, and the remaining positions are assigned according to the sprint points.
As a result, you can expect to see strategic skating, jockeying for position, and all-out sprints, particularly near the end of a race (which might take as little as 7:30 for men and a little over 8 minutes for women).
To put it another way, it’s not like any of the other long track Races out there.
Mantia said, “You get to see the race unfold as it is happening.”
U.S. teammate KC Boutiette chimed in, “There’s not one skater who won’t stay and watch it.”
This week in Milwaukee, the United States will hold the Olympic Team Trials for long track speedskaters, with the mass start events scheduled for the finish of the competition on Sunday for both men and women.
Teams will be selected based on a combination of this week’s results and those from the two races at the fall world cup qualifying.
As for the males, they have competitors like Mantia and Boutiette.
Forerunner of the “wheels-to-ice” movement, Boutiette competed in four Olympic Winter Games between 1992 and 2006.
Boutiette has gotten back into form since the mass start was included in the 2015 Olympic schedule.
If he were to qualify for the Olympics in the speedskating event, he would set a record for the oldest competitor since Great Britain’s Albert Tebbit, who was 52 years old when he skated in 1924.
Although Mantia, 31, is competitive across a variety of distances on ice, he considers the mass start to be “the ace up his sleeve.” Mantia made the transition from inline to ice speedskating in 2011.
“It was something I felt at ease with,” he explained. I can still do well in the mass start even if my time trialling on the long track is not going well.
Last season’s global champion was Mantia (Boutiette was 12th). Another former inline skater, Heather Bergsma, placed third at the women’s world championships in 2016.
In other words, the idea of a large-scale beginning is not Novel.
Several popular winter sports have a same foundational principle, including biathlon, cross-country skiing, and even short track speedskating.
Even long track has Olympic precedent, with heats of six skaters in a format prevalent in North America at the time being used at the 1932 Winter Games in Lake Placid.
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.
Many of the skaters, including Bergsma, Boutiette, and Mantia who had previously competed in inline events, appreciated the inclusion of this new dimension.
Short track was introduced to the Olympic schedule in 1992, and involves heats of up to six skaters racing on a 111.12-meter oval track, making mass start an integral part of capturing the sport’s thrill.
Despite their similarities, mass start differs significantly from short track due to its larger number of competitors, longer distances, and inclusion of intermediate sprints.
Athletes are cautious about making predictions about the outcomes of the Olympic races because mass start is still relatively new.
There are, Nevertheless, some Certainties.
You won’t see a skater, for instance, doing a trick where they jump from one wire to another.
Mantia warned that being in the lead during the draught for an extended period of time could be detrimental. “If there are only two laps left, then certainly. Yet it is most certainly not too soon.
Teamwork and the willingness of nations to cooperate are further concerns. 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 come in second. However, at the world championships, Mantia was victorious and the tables were turned.
We’re basically in a gentleman’s agreement, Mantia said.
The key is to put oneself in a position to win, and then endeavour to do so.
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.
A key member of the team, Joey, was praised by Boutiette. If I skate with Joey, I know he can get me on the podium if he’s feeling well and the race pans out a certain way, but I know I can get him to the top of the podium.
Whatever the outcome, I’m fine with helping out. But we should both try out for the team.