Thursday, 25 February 2010

Keep Your Head Down...and Skate!

Speed skating Men 10000M Oslo 1952 Winter Olympic Games

We're doing the rounds from the Winter Olympics again, with something a little different each time. We focus on the 1950s incarnation of Speed Skating at the Oslo, Norway Winter Olympics. Commentary is in Norwegian, but there is plenty to watch in this short clip. Speed Skating, a sport now dominated by lesser countries accustomed to the Winter Olympics like the Netherlands and South Korea and adorned in the latest very tight and aerodynamic lycra, taking place on artificial ice in an indoor arena.

In this clip, it shows a Norwegian (Norge) skater winning 2 races, going on to win the Gold medal in the 1000m event. The losing skater who unuckily slides off track is, hard to tell, telling from the flag in black and white, could be German. What we see here is a form of long track speed skating.

Speed Skating has been part of the Winter Olympics from the start, from the inaugural 1924 Games held in Chamonix, France. The roots of the sport go back a few centuries but official races were first set up in the 19th century in Norway. The race and movements for this sport are rather complex. The most notable movement is the "Double Push" which is trying to skate as a straight as possible by pushing alternatively on each side, giving a swaying effect, with the head down, and the arms or arm carrying the momentum in its swing. The skaters also sometimes just skate, but not really sprinting, where the their hands are behind their back. This does looks rather laid back, but probably to conserve energy for the corners and final dash at the end. The races in long-track speed skating are usually fought between two competitors, and after 400 metres, they swap lanes in a straight run section of the ice rink.

The differences between now and the clip are massive. Skates were firmly fixed to the shoes, while in the 1990's what's called a "Clap Skate" was invented, which would detach from one side of the shoe, when lifted off the ground. No more woolly hats, but athletes are now consumed by lycra and now wear goggles too.

Norway dominated the 1952 event with 3 Gold medals in 3 of the 4 various length events, including 2 Bronze medals to go with that. This was in great thanks to Hjalmar Andersen, as seen in the Youtube clip.

Norway went to claim top spot in the overall medal tables with 7 golds and 16 medals in total, with the United States and Finland in 2nd and 3rd respectively.

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