In hot pursuit: The team races

Feb 10, 2014; Sochi, RUSSIA; Shani Davis of the USA during the men's speed skating 500m race during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Adler Arena Skating Center. Image by Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

In hot pursuit: The team races

By Mike Witty, Olympics contributor. CREATED Feb 20, 2014

This Friday and Saturday are the men's and women's team pursuit races. 

That’s right: “Team.”  

Long track speed skating, which is known for being an individual sport, is racing a team race.  It is not a relay race like short track, where skaters exchange turns on the track.  It is a race where a group of skaters are working in unison to try catch the team they are racing, or have a faster time than that team.

Each team skating will have three skaters.  The women will skate six laps, while the men will skate eight laps.  The teams will start and finish in the middle of the straightaway directly opposite of each other. 

Unlike in the individual races where the skaters had to change lanes, in the pursuit races there is only one race lane, so no need to switch lanes. 

The team’s finish is determined by the third skater in the group. Teams will be looking to beat the opposing team, since the winner of each race moves on to the next round.  A team can have the second fastest time of all the teams in your round, but if that team was beat head to head, they are out.

More simply stated: time does not matter.  Only beating your head-to-head opponent matters.

Some rules:

- If a team does not finish with three skaters, they will not be given a time and the will be disqualified from the competition.

- If a team’s third position skater overtakes the third position skater of the opposing team, the race-  is considered over and the overtaking team is awarded a “heat win”.

There is an “A” final which will determine gold and silver, and a “B" final which determines bronze and 4th place.  The “B” final skates before the “A” final.

Some things to look for:

- Teams will communicate how far ahead or behind they are in comparison to the other team.  The thought is, why skate harder than needed if all that has to happen is beat the other team  to move on?

- Some teams like to mix the team with good 1,500 meter skaters and distance skaters with some speed in their skating.  The idea is to get the team off to a fast start and then get into lap times that are consistent.

A 1,500 meter skater has some endurance and some sprint, therefore the 1,500 meter skater is used to get the team going.

- Stay together!!!  This is vital.  If a skater is dropped, the end result is based on that dropped skater.  The team is only as good as it’s weakest link.

- Skaters will take turns leading for their teams. Typically a skater will lead for 1 lap, maybe 1 1/2 laps.

- At the end of the final turn and without slowing down, the team will fan out and try to cross the line all at once if possible.

- Some times a team that has great teamwork can beat a team of super stars.

To sum it up: The pursuits are a high speed race with a lot going on.  It’s a race that has 1,500 meter grit and determination and 3,000/5,000 meter endurance components that will definitely test the skaters.

It's a race that requires skaters and coaches to work together, and if a team has some really good skaters and lots of great teamwork, they can over take the team with one or two great skaters with not-so-good teamwork. 

If you like speed and you like team sports, this might be the event for you.