Mass Start

The three-headed speed-skating race

New to the Olympics this year is the mass start event – a hybrid of short-track action, long-track strategy and roller derby-like roughness.

The rules are there are no rules, so you can't really get disqualified unless you were to like, drop the gloves and start beating on someone…

— Ivanie Blondin, mass start speed skater

There are rules, namely that skaters cannot outright obstruct one another, but the roughness is fuelled by two main race elements.

First, the number of skaters. There are up to 24 in mass start, on a course designed for six skaters in the team pursuit event.

Space is tight, to say the least.

Second, the structure of the race encourages constant jockeying for position.

The first three skaters to finish the race are on the podium, as in other events. That’s straight forward.

But after that, sprint points come into play. They are awarded to the top three skaters winning ‘premium’ laps 4, 8 and 12.

The highest sprint points at the end of the race determine fourth through sixth place.

First through third place are also awarded sprint points - 60, 40 and 20, respectively - but that’s more for ranking purposes outside Olympic competition.

Combine these incentives with the draft, or the skaters conserving energy behind the leader, and you start to understand the various strategies at play.

If you’re going for a top-8 finish, maybe go for the points. If you’re gutsy and you’re going for that win, save your energy and go for it at the end.

— Heather McLean, mass start speed skater

Given the total race is 6,400 metres, making it the second longest event behind the men’s 10,000 metre, skaters are often conservative to start.

But by the midway point those strategies are on full display.

I don’t go for premiums during the race, I’m always gunning for a medal.

— Ivanie Blondin, mass start speed skater

Keep an eye out for Ivanie Blondin, she’s coming off multiple mass start wins in 2017.

CREDITS: Reporting, video editing and animation by TIMOTHY MOORE; Interactive design and development by CHRISTOPHER MANZA; Editing by JAMIE ROSS and SHAWNA RICHER