Staying on track

The road to elite performance on the 1500m speed skating.

Dutch elite speed skaters are world leading. This thesis provides scientific and practical insights in the development of 1500m Dutch speed skaters towards elite performance.

Elite is therefore defined as skating within ten percent of the prevailing world record at a lowland ice rink. For all 63 female and 100 male skaters who reached the elite level between 1993 and 2013, performance development data from age thirteen to 26 years were obtained. Per age the average, maximal and minimal 1500m performance of the elite group was provided and compared with over 2500 competitive skaters who did not make it to the elite level. To make the results valuable for future generations, all performances are presented as a percentage of the prevailing world records.

To explain performance development in speed skating, pacing (distribution of energy over the race), technique and muscle fatigue were studied. The research on pacing and technique included over 200 juniors (13-18 years) at the highest level in The Netherlands. Better performing juniors were better able to maintain velocity in the midsections of the race and showed better technique, characterized by lower knee and trunk angles. Additionally, pacing behavior is shown to change over time for junior speed skaters, with better performing juniors developing more towards the pacing behavior of elite speed skaters. On the short term, it appeared harder for speed skaters to change their pacing behavior. This is studied in comparison with cyclists, who were able to start more explosively when they were instructed to.