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HISTORY OF SPEEDSKATING
main > history of speedskating


(from usspeedskating.org)

No one knows for certain where skating originated. We do know that the skate found its origins in the ski, or snowshoe, which was used by the Vikings to maneuver across snow-covered ground.

The skate was a logical development, allowing the Viking to cross frozen lakes. In fact, archeologists have found Viking-made skates in many regions of Europe known to be seats of Viking power, including England, Germany, Switzerland and other nations.

The sport of speedskating itself is one of many that derived its recreational nature from its practical value. Like cycling, running and sailing, laborers and children "speedskated" every day as a part of their work or transportation regimen.

In Scandinavia, primitive hunters used crude skates made from animal bones to hunt wild animals across the fjords and icy terrain. Skates shaped from bones of elk, horse and reindeer have been found by archaeologists in the area of Bjoko, Sweden. The bone skate was fastened with straps to a boot made from animal skins. In the fourteenth century, highly waxed wood replaced bone as the material of choice for skate blades. However, neither bone nor wood provided any edge for the blade, and so a long pole was required to direct the skater across the ice.

References to skating can also be found in ancient literature. The Finns and Laplanders known for their technique of sliding with snowshoes or runners were called "Skrid Finnai" or "Sliding Finns," a common name for most of the ancient inhabitants of Sweden in the "Norsk Saga." Contemporary children's fiction often stereotypes the Dutch as canal gliders. The first mention of a metal runner on a skate may be traced to the year 1400. Originating in Holland, this development would improve skating as the traditional means of transport for the Dutch people. The Amsterdam market in winter was supplied with goods moved over frozen canals, including eggs carried in baskets on the heads of women. The functionality of the skate, and the development of its recreational usage, would intensify the love affair between the Dutch people and their national past time, speedskating. The later development of the first all-iron skates took place in Scotland in 1572, moving speedskating into the realm of an organized sport.

And so, the evolution of speedskating into a "sport" was a progression. And once it had developed as such, speedskating rapidly became a favorite among Europeans, particularly the Dutch. The first of the three forms of skating (speedskating, figure skating and hockey) to develop into a sport, speedskating advanced so quickly in Holland that its current form is very much like that in which the Dutch participated in the 1500s. Very little has changed.

By the eighteenth century, the popularity of speedskating had spread across northern Europe. The first known speedskating club was the Skating Club of Edinburgh, in Scotland. The first speedskating competition is thought to be a 15-mile race held on the Fens in England, February 4, 1763. Shortly thereafter, competitions sprang up across the northern part of the continent, with the skaters, comprised of the
laborers, being judged by the aristocrats, who themselves preferred the sport of figure skating.

The first speedskating club was established in Philadelphia in 1849, with skaters using the Schuylkill River. The sport was adopted in New York and Washington shortly thereafter. In 1850, E.W. Bushnell of Philadelphia made the first all-steel skate, which were light and strong, and did not require the frequent sharpening that the iron runners had. With this development, Bushnell virtually revolutionized both the skate and the sport of speedskating, raising the level of interest in the sport from recreational to
passionate.

The first official speedskating events were in 1863 in Oslo. In 1889, the first World Championships was hosted by the Netherlands, bringing together the Dutch, Russian, American and English champions. The Dutch were first to propose the competition format similar to what is used today in long track. The first Winter Olympic gold medalist from the U.S. was Charles Jewtraw of Lake Placid, N.Y.
Jewtraw won the gold in the 500-meters on January 26, 1924 in Chamonix, France. Known for his explosive first 100 yards, Jewtraw's best 100 yards was 9.4 seconds, still remarkable by today's
standards.

Speedskating has produced more Olympic medals than any other sport, as well as several of the greatest feats in Winter Olympic history. Among them are the five gold medals won by 21-year old Eric
Heiden of Madison, Wis., at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, and the capture of the first Olympic medal for short track speedskating by Cathy Turner in 1992. She followed that up four years later with another gold in the 500 meters. And of course, there is Bonnie Blair, the skater from Champaign, Ill., who won more medals (six) than any other U.S. woman, in summer or winter competition.



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