How Olympic Ice Skates Are Designed for Speed, Spins, and Swerves

Watching the world-class ice athletes of the Winter Olympics, whether it's in speed skating, figure skating or hockey, is a jaw-dropping affair. The speed, control, and dexterity they exhibit while somehow balancing on a metal blade is simply amazing. But what exactly is going on with those blades? Smarter Every Day's Destin Sandlin shows us the fascinating physics and engineering that goes into every pair of Olympic skates.

Advertisement

Those blades may all look pretty similar on your TV screen, but figure skating, speed skating, and hockey blades each have a very unique design idealized for the challenges of each sport. And while there's still no replacement for pure athletic talent, we won't call you out if you blame your lack of Olympic skating ability on sub-par blades. [Smarter Every Day]

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

Other than omitting some explanation about blade rocker, this is an excellent explanation of skate blade dynamics with great video do demonstrate it.

WildCat is exactly correct. Speedskate blades are not perfectly flat even though long track blades may appear to be viewed from the side. Some explanation about a blade's rocker would have been a good addition to all three types of skate blades, as it determines maneuverability and ease in making turns versus stability. A long track blade rocker has about a 22-24m radius which is enormous compared to small radius rockers on figure and hockey skates, the latter having about a 3-4m radius (some hockey players prefer an even smaller radius). A long track speedskate blade only needs to make the large sweeping 100m long turns at the ends of a 400m track (two complete hockey rinks will fit in a long track's infield with room left over around them). Short track speedskate blades have a more visible rocker, but it's still not much, about 8-9 meters, occasionally a meter or two less, so it can make the smaller turn on a 111 meter track laid out inside a hockey rink. A much smaller radius blade rocker is why figure skaters can make sharp turns during their programs and hockey players can turn on a dime. Speedskaters cannot do that without some difficulty, often resulting in crunching sounds coming from the blade edge chipping the surface of the ice in doing so. It's hard on the blade edges, quickly dulling them. Rocker radii given are approximate. As WildCat mentions, the exact rocker radius for speed, figure and hockey skate blades depends on personal preference.