Speedskating has been on the Olympic program since the first Winter Games in 1924, while its unpredictable offshoot, short track, became an official sport in 1992.
Speedskating is held on a 400-meter oval at distances ranging from 500 to 10,000 meters, with two skaters going at a time but essentially racing against the clock. Simply put, the fastest time wins the gold medal. There are also team pursuit events.
In short track, skaters compete on a 111-meter course in the middle of a hockey-sized rink, and the clock isn't important at all. There are frequent crashes and disqualifications, leading the sport to be known as "roller derby on ice." The head-to-head races are conducted in heats until a winner is determined at individual distances ranging from 500 to 1,500 meters. There are also team relays.
Five things to look for in speedskating and short track at the Sochi Games:
COUNTRIES TO WATCH: Despite perennial funding challenges, the U.S. speedskating program has won more gold medals (29) than any other country. The Netherlands (82) and Norway (80) have captured the most overall medals, and the Dutch are expected to be the powerhouse team at these games. Their deep squad is led by the reigning world allround champions, Sven Kramer and Irene Wust. In short track, the Chinese women took a huge loss when two-time defending 500 champion Wang Meng sustained a broken ankle in training, likely preventing her from competing in Sochi. Canada's Charles Hamelin on the men's side and South Korea's Shim Suk Hee are now poised to be the biggest stars.
SHANI'S THREEPEAT: American star Shani Davis will try to do something that's never been done by a male speedskater: Win the same event at three straight Olympics. The 31-year-old won gold in the 1,000 at both Turin and Vancouver, and he's considered a strong contender to make it three in a row. He also won silver in the 1,500 at the last two Olympics, and he would love to add a gold in the other of his favorite events. Davis isn't the only top medal contender for the U.S. team, either. Heather Richardson and former college basketball player Brittany Bowe both have a shot at multiple podium finishes, giving the Americans a short matching the eight medals won by the 2002 team.