The roots of ice skating date back over 1,000 years to the frozen canals and waterways of Scandinavia and the Netherlands when men laced animal bones to their footwear and glided across frozen lakes and rivers.
By the 1600’s, traveling on blades between villages had become a useful and enjoyable means of transportation for the Dutch. Surprisingly, credit for the first pair of all-iron skates goes to a Scotsman who invented them in 1592. The iron blade accelerated the spread of speed skating and in 1642 the Skating Club of Edinburgh was formed. In 1763 the world's first organized speed skating race, which covered a distance of slightly more than 24 kilometres, was held on the Fens in England.
Eventually, the fledgling sport found its way to North America, where a lighter, sharper and longer all-steel blade was first produced in 1850. In 1889, the Dutch organized the first world championship with skaters covering four distances — 500 m, 1,500 m, 5,000 m and 10,000 m. The International Skating Union (ISU) was formed in the Netherlands in 1892. By the end of the century, the sport had attracted a mass following in many parts of the world.
Short-track speedskating originated in Europe near the end of the last century, and by 1906, the first true short-track competitions involving Canada and the United States had taken place. By the 1920s, crowds drawn by the flashing blades, tight corners and the rough-and-tumble nature of the mass starts regularly packed New York's Madison Square Garden to see short-track competitions between the two countries.
Short track developed such a presence in the United States that organizers at the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid ran the speed skating events in pack-style, with as many as five people per heat. Five-time Olympic champion Clas Thunberg of Finland was so outraged that he refused to compete, and the 500m and 1500m was won by Jack Shea of the United States.
By the end of World War II short track had begun to catch on throughout Europe, Australia and the Far East. It was a demonstration sport in 1988 and earned high marks. It was elevated to full Olympic status in Albertville in 1992. Only four events were contested in Albertville (the men's 1,000m, the women's 500m, and the men's and women's relays), but they proved to be a huge success. While European nations dominated the 1992 Games, short-track teams from North America and the Far East claimed all but one of the available medals in 1994.