Women’s speed skating makes Games debut

Women’s speed skating received official recognition in 1931 when the International Skating Union (ISU) registered the 500m, 1,000m and 1,500m world records established by the discipline’s pioneering exponents. It was consequently added to the programme of the 1932 Lake Placid Games, but only as a demonstration sport.

Picture by IOC

All three distances were included, giving the skaters, who were exclusively American and Canadian, various chances of glory. The competition adopted the same North American rules used in the men’s competition, where large groups of participants raced against each other from a common start, with the first person across the line winning the heat or final.

On 8 February, Jean Wilson (CAN) won her 500m heat in 60.40, and then prevailed in the final in 58.00 ahead of the US duo of Elizabeth Dubois and Kit Klein. The next day, it was Dubois’ chance to shine, as she triumphed in the 1,000m in 2:04.00, with Hattie Donaldson (CAN) and Dorothy Franey (USA) finishing second and third. Last but not least, Klein enjoyed her own moment in the sun on 10 February. Beaten by Wilson in the 1,500m heats, she gained her revenge in the final, crossing the line in 3:00.60.

The general level in the women’s speed skating was significantly high, the three winners recording finish times that were superior to the existing world records. Having produced exciting races and enthralled the watching public, the demonstration event was regarded as a resounding success. In spite of this, the sport would not reappear on the women’s card at the Olympic Games until Squaw Valley 1960, where it was finally accorded official status. Wilson, Dubois and Klein would go down in history as Olympic trailblazers, despite not receiving medals for their efforts. Klein in particular excelled after Lake Placid, becoming the first all-distance world champion at Stockholm 1936, where the women’s World Championship officially saw the light of day.


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