Speed Skating is the fastest human powered, non-mechanical aided sport in the world, at least that’s what National Geographic concluded in a sports overview of the Winter Olympics in Sochi 2014.
Peter Michael (NZL) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating Final 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Skaters can reach speeds of over 60 kilometers per hour. Alpine skiers may go faster, but they go downhill, whereas Speed Skaters compete on a flat surface. Cyclists can also reach higher speeds, but they make use of mechanical gears. In Speed Skating it’s just the athlete, the blades and the ice.
Pavel Kulizhnikov (RUS) is the fastest Speed Skater in regular competition. The Russian set a world record in the 500m in 33.61 at the Utah Olympic Oval in Salt Lake City on 9 March 2019. His average speed for the full distance was 53.56 km/h, but his top speed was a lot faster.
Pavel Kulizhnikov (RUS) at the Combined ISU World Sprint and World Allround Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
It cost Kulizhnikov 9.67 seconds to hammer out the first 100 meters and he completed the full lap in 23.94 seconds. Kulizhnikov was the first to ever skate a lap under 24 seconds. His average speed in the final 400 meters with a flying start was 60.15 km/h. In comparison: Usain Bolt’s world record 100m in athletics is 9.58, for an average speed of 37.58 km/h and a top speed of 44.72 km/h.
Speed Skating is superfast because there’s hardly any resistance between the blade and the ice. Air resistance is the athlete’s main enemy. Salt Lake City (USA) is the fastest track on earth because it’s situated at an altitude of 1,425m above sea level and there’s less air resistance at high altitude. Calgary (Canada), which used to have the fastest track since 1988 until Salt Lake City came along in 2002, is also a high-altitude track, but it's 300m lower than Salt Lake City.
Kjeld Nuis (NED) found a way to bypass air resistance, when he decided to set an unofficial world speed record on skates in March 2018. A car with a wind shield at the back had to draft the Olympic 1,000m and 1,500m champion. With the support of former ISU World Sprint Speed Skating champion Erben Wennemars (NED) and Swedish racing driver Mikaela Åhlin-Kottulinsky behind the wheel, Nuis managed to skate 93 km/h behind the car on a well-prepared straight 1500m track on natural ice in Luleå, Sweden.