Speed Skating 101: Rules

Speed Skating 101: Rules
Posted at 8:26 AM, Oct 06, 2021


The following officials are necessary at the speed skating competition:
•    Referee and one Assistant Referee
•    One or two Starters and an Assistant
•    Finishing Line Judge
•    Chief Timekeeper and Assistant Chief Timekeepers
•    Lap Scorers
•    Track Judges, including two Corner Judges (at least two for each curve), one Judge to observe crossing of the lines in the finishing stragiht, and one Crossing Controller
•    Ice Technical Expert
•    Sport Expert

The women’s and men’s events will each have a separate team of Referees and Starters.


Two methods of timekeeping exist: automatic and manual. The use of automatic timekeeping is compulsory for the Olympic Winter Games. The term “automatic timekeeping” denotes a time-measuring system that is started automatically by the firing of a starting gun, and stopped automatically when the finish line is crossed by each competitor, respectively. 

A manual timekeeping procedure also has to be put in place. If the automatic system partly or fully fails, the missing times will be established based on the manual results, which are results taken by hand on digital electronic watches. 

The Draw

A draw for the starting order takes place before each individual event. For each draw, the competitors are placed in groups based on an individual ranking of the skaters according to results from World Cup races during the pre-Olympic season. Skaters without results from World Cup events will be ranked thereafter, according to their approved qualifying time. Once skaters are placed in groups, there is a random draw to determine start order within each group.

The start order for the preliminary round of the team pursuit will be based on the teams’ ranks from the qualification competitions determining the selection of the eight teams.

The Start

Prior to each start, the names of the skaters about to compete are clearly announced at the starting point itself and in the dressing area. Failure to appear promptly at the start is equivalent to withdrawal from the distance. Once at the starting area, skaters place themselves at the pre-start line, which is two meters (6.56 feet) behind the start line.

Next, the starter orders the skaters to the start line, where the skaters take a stable position. The starter will then call “ready,” whereupon the skaters take their starting position and keep this position until the starting shot is fired. Competitors must keep their skates entirely behind the starting line and may not have their skates on or over the starting line. In addition, the skaters may not touch the starting line or be in contact with the ice beyond the starting line with any parts of their body or equipment. 

There shall be a distinct interval (about 1 to 1½ seconds) between when the skaters have taken their starting positions and the firing of the shot. 

False Start

If a skater takes the starting position before the word “ready,” or leaves the position before the shot is fired, it is a false start. If one or both skaters intentionally are slow in taking up their starting position, the offending skater(s) are given a false start. Also, if one of the skaters breaks from his mark, thereby causing the other skater to follow him, only the skater at fault is given a false start. 

The starter shall warn the skater committing the first false start. If both skaters are responsible for a false start, they shall both be warned so by the starter. When the starter calls the skaters of the pair/heat for a new start after a false start has been declared, then a skater committing a next false start of this pair/heat shall be disqualified from the race concerned.


Skaters are required to change lanes once during each lap because the inner lane of the speed skating oval covers a shorter distance than the outer lane. 

The lane-change takes place when a skater arrives at the crossing straight (the back straight opposite the finish area) and the right of way is given to the skater switching from the outer to the inner lane. The skater leaving the inner lane is considered responsible for collisions, unless the other skater acts in an obstructive way. 

The exception to the crossover requirement is the first lap of the 1000m and 1500m events. 

Skaters can be disqualified for cutting the lines or leaving the inner curve.

Cutting the lines – When entering the curves, in the curve and coming out of the curve, a skater is forbidden to cross the inner line of the curve, as defined by movable blocks, for the purpose of shortening the distance. This offense may result in the skater being disqualified.

Leaving inner curve – If a skater, because of high speed, a fall or other incidents, cannot hold the inner curve or the first part of the finishing straight, and interferes with the skater in the outer lane, this will result in a disqualification. 

A competitor who is interfered with, through no fault of his or her own, is allowed to make a fresh start, and the best time of his two races counts. If a competitor is unable to complete a race because of an obstacle on the ice, the skater is allowed to start again. A broken skate or dirty ice is not an acceptable obstacle. If the obstacle is a fallen competitor, or an obstacle that has come onto the ice because of an opponent’s rule violation, the racer is allowed a fresh start. The skater can rest for up to 30 minutes between the initial race and the re-skate.

The Finish

A skater has completed a distance when the tip of a skate touches or reaches the finish line after the prescribed number of laps. If a skater falls short of the finish line and slides across the finish, time will still be recorded at the moment the tip of the lead skate reaches the finish line, or the extension of the finish line if the skater is out of the lane.

A team finishes in the team pursuit when all three skaters complete the prescribed number of laps (eight for men, six for women). If fewer than three skaters of the team finish the race, the team is disqualified.


A country may enter only skaters who have achieved qualifying points and times set by the ISU for the respective distances. The total number of competitors from any country may not exceed 10 women and 10 men. For the men’s and women’s 500m, 1000m and 1500m, a country may enter a maximum of three competitors in each event. A maximum of 36 total male athletes will be permitted to participate in the men’s 500m, 1000m and 1500m races, and a maximum of 32 total female athletes will be permitted to participate in the women’s 500m, 1000m and 1500m.

For the women’s 3000m and men’s 5000m, a country may enter a maximum of three competitors in each event. A maximum of 24 total skaters will be permitted to participate in each event. 

For the women’s 5000m and men’s 10,000m, a country may enter a maximum of two competitors in each even. A maximum of 12 total skaters will be permitted in each event.

For the men’s and women’s mass start, a country may enter a maximum of two competitors in each event. A maximum of 24 total skaters will be permitted in each event.

For the team pursuit, a maximum of eight teams will be permitted in each event. The host nation will receive an automatic spot in the group of eight.


One gold, one silver and one bronze medal will be awarded to the finishers with the three fastest times in each event, respectively. Diplomas will be awarded to the first- through eighth-place finishers.