YOG reignites mass start on Austrian ice

With mass start speed skating set to feature for the first time since Lake Placid 1932 at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, we turn the clock back to the event’s unforgettable comeback at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games Innsbruck 2012.

Picture by 2016 / CIO / LEICESTER, Jed

The Youth Olympic Games (YOG) have never been afraid to experiment, and this was very much in evidence in Innsbruck in 2012, when an exciting event made a comeback to the speed skating programme after last being at an Olympic event in 1932.

Six of the eight races in Austria followed the traditional two-skater, heats format on the ice of the Eisschnelllaufbahn but there were also mass start races for the men and women. The multiple entrant event proved so popular that it will now feature again at the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang 2018. 

A total of 28 skaters lined up for the start of the eagerly-anticipated women’s race over a distance of 3,200m and eight laps. The competitors were arranged in rows of six, with a metre separating each row, and the starting positions determined by the athletes’ performances in previous races at the YOG.

The wet conditions in Innsbruck made conditions treacherous, but the assembled skaters set off from the starting line without incident or mishap. While two athletes fell at the first corner of the Eisschnellaufbahn, fortunately a significant pile-up was avoided and, after six laps of cat-and-mouse skating, the medals were ultimately decided by a last-lap sprint.  

2012 / CIO / JUILLIART, Richard

The pre-race favourite was the Netherlands’ Sanneke de Neeling after her victory in the 3,000m in Innsbruck, but she had Su Ji Jang, from the Korean Republic, and Japan’s Sumire Kikuchi for close company as the leaders hit the home straight. It was, however, the Dutch teenager who found the decisive turn of speed when it really mattered, powering over the finishing line just 0.07 seconds clear of her Korean rival, and only 0.18 seconds ahead of Kikuchi. Victory gave the 15-year-old her third medal of the 2012 YOG, while Jang’s silver medal improved on the bronze she had won in the 3,000m.

In the men’s race over 12 laps, it was a story of continued Chinese dominance, as Yang Fan completed a hat-trick of gold medals in Innsbruck. The youngster had already triumphed in the 1,500m and 3,000m races and proved too strong for the rest of the field in the mass start, beating Seitario Ichinohe of Japan into second and Russia’s Vasili Pudushkin into third. 

“I really like it because it’s different from the normal speed skating,” Fan said after his victory. “You have to adapt to unexpected events. You have to be able to respond quickly. You have to be smart – technique is not enough. Sometimes you have to suddenly speed up, sometimes you have to simply follow the others. You have to use your brain a lot.”