The roots of ice skating date back over 1,000 years to the frozen canals and waterways of Scandinavia and the Netherlands when men laced animal bones to their footwear and glided across frozen lakes and rivers.
Credit for the first pair of all-iron skates goes to a Scotsman who invented them in 1592. The iron blade accelerated the spread of speed skating and in 1642 the Skating Club of Edinburgh was formed. In 1763 the world's first organized speed skating race, which covered a distance of slightly more than 24 kilometres, was held on the Fens in England.
Eventually, the fledgling sport found its way to North America, where a lighter, sharper and longer all-steel blade was first produced in 1850. In 1889, the Dutch organized the first world championship with skaters covering four distances — 500m, 1,500m, 5,000m and 10,000m. The International Skating Union (ISU) was formed in the Netherlands in 1892.
Canada's first recorded ice skating race took place on the St. Lawrence River in 1854 when three British army officers raced from Montréal to Québec City. Speed skating races became a regular feature of winter life; and by 1887 the Amateur Skating Association of Canada, the young country's first sport association, was formed.
The sport of short track speed skating, characterized by the mass start, originated in Canada and the United States in 1905, with the first known competition to have taken place in 1909. By the 1920s and 1930s, crowds regularly packed New York's Madison Square Gardens in anticipation of the thrills and spills that characterize the sport.
Short track speed skating became part of the ISU in 1967, although it would be some time before ISU-sanctioned competitions were organized on a world-wide basis. In the meantime, Great Britain, Belgium, France, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States competed among themselves. International competitions began in the 1970s and an official ISU competition was launched in 1976. In 1981, the sport's first World Championship was held at Meudon-la-Forêt, France.
In 1984 the name of the discipline was changed to Indoor Short Track Speed Skating and the use of a hard shell helmet became mandatory. Another milestone occurred in 1988 when the sport made its Olympic debut as a demonstration event at the Calgary Winter Olympic Games. Full medal status came in 1992 at the Albertville Winter Games.
Despite its relatively short history, short track speed skating has produced many illustrious moments — many of which have belonged to Canadians. Domination of the discipline has seesawed between Canada and the United States with the Canadians taking the early honours and the Americans dominating the scene from 1940 to 1960. For the next couple of decades, titles were shared between Americans and Canadians, with such familiar names as Gaétan Boucher and Sylvie Daigle taking world titles. Today, the sport is dominated by South Korea, Canada, China, the United States, but it is developing rapidly in Japan, the Netherlands and Italy as well as Russia and Hungary.
For more speed skating history, visit the “About Speed Skating” section of the Speed Skating Canada website at www.speedskating.ca