07 February 2010

Short vs. Long

So ladies, which do you prefer, short or long? I'm talking about speed skating of course!

Speed skating strikes me as an unusually strange sport. First of all, why call either sport "speed" skating? Why not skating? I guess because there is "figure" skating, but really, when you say there is going to be a running competition, you don't say, there is going to be a "speed" running competition, do you? You just assume that given that it is a race that speed must be involved, don't you?

Anyways, enough of that segway. The important note here is why have two different sports? I mean, it is not like we have short track track, do we? Actually, we do, it is called indoor athletics, but there is no such thing as long and short tracks indoors. For championship purposes, there is one meet and it is on a standard 200m track. Same story for swimming. There is no short and long pool championships at the Olympics, right? Well there is short pool championships, in a 25m pool instead of 50m, but we never host those same meets at the same time? Furthermore, in both athletics and acquatics, the athletes are the same for both indoor/outdoor track and long/short pools. This is not the case for short and long track figure skating. They are two totally separate groups of athletes. In fact, the countries that excel at each sport are two almost completely different sets. Why is that the case...well, let's find out.

First, let me demonstrate which countries are successful over each length of track. In short track speed skating, the all time leaders in medals at the Olympics are South Korea, followed by China and Canada. In the 5 Winter Olympics, only 5 countries have won short track speed skating medals, and South Korea and China represent more than half of those medals. So how do they do in long track speed skating?

Well, not very well as it turns out. Neither country has ever won a long track speed skating gold medal at the Olympics. And both countries rank in the bottom of all 20 countries to have ever won a medal in long track speed skating at the Olympics. So what's up with that? Here are some possible, yet crazy, explanations.

1. Size Matters - Asian are short and not long, therefore excel in short track speed skating....um, no further comment required.

2. Population - both countries are so overpopulated that they cannot afford the space to build larger tracks. This is actually totally insane, as there are huge areas of land where one could build a long track rink and in fact, both countries host long track speed skating world cup events. So this is just insane for explanation - not to mention false.

3. Size really does matter - all penis jokes aside, perhaps there is something to the height argument? Successful short track skaters are mostly not overly tall. The Dutch - the world's tallest people - are very successful at long track speed skating, where a longer stride length would be beneficial. Shorter strides would be more useful in short track skating as you constantly have to be adjusting to the tight corners.....so, perhaps there is something to this argument. But then again, it is not like pygmies are dominating short track at the Olympics.

4. Asians won't compete in sports without helmets....hmm, there may be something to this argument. Long track speed skaters do not wear helmets, whereas short track athletes do. I'm not saying causation = correlation, but there must be something to this argument. Plus, everyone knows that Asians are smarter, so of course they would want to protect their heads much more, wouldn't they?

5. The newness of short track speed skating appealed to the Asians sense of tech savvy. Well this is simply not true. If anything, short track speed skating has less "technology" than long track. I mean, I think that NASA built the USA long track speed skating uniforms. So I'm thinking this is not really an explanation of any kind.

Well, I could sit here and keep making racist jokes, or I could simply state that the main reason for these countries success at short track speed skating has been that the sport is fairly new, as are these countries sports federations. The Europeans, where winter Olympics originated, excel at the more "traditional" sport of long track speed skating. Norway and The Netherlands are the all time leaders in long track speed skating medals. If you are a skater in these countries, you are not about to start up playing short track skating - the same way that US kids do not dream of playing in the Arena league, they prefer the NFL. Well, in these countries, short track speed skating is the Arena Football league. But in China and Korea, without a long tradition of long track speed skating, it is only natural that they would focus on this newer sport and concentrate their funds and efforts at dominating it. Well, they have certainly done this, and unless Canada or the US has anything to say about it, there could be another medal haul for China and South Korea in Vancouver on the short track.