Better performing junior speed skaters are better in maintaining speed in the midsection of the race than less performing speed skaters. The better juniors also show lower knee angles while skating and have a better push-off over the entire race. These are the conclusions of a thesis written by human movement scientist Inge Stoter from the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG). She will be awarded a PhD by the University of Groningen on 2 March.
The Dutch have dominated world speed skating for years. Why is this? In her thesis, Inge Stoter studied juniors in the age range of 13 to 19 years on their way towards the top. For the purposes of her study, ‘the top’ was taken to mean everyone who skated within ten percent of the prevailing world record on a sea-level skating track.
Performance of top-class skaters in the junior age range
For her research, Inge Stoter analysed the way that performance developed between the ages of 13 and 26 years, for all of the 63 female and 100 male speed skaters who reached the top in the Netherlands between 1993 and 2013. All of their achievements are shown as a percentage of the world record, to enable future generations to make use of the data. Stoter used the categories pacing, technique and muscle fatigue as a means of explaining skating performance.
Stoter's research shows that the juniors who performed the best were able to maintain their speed in the middle section of the race. For a good 1,500-metre race, it is important to maintain speed in the penultimate round, between 700 and 1,100 metres, and not to lose too much speed. This, in combination with a relatively slow start, is essential for a good 1,500-metre time in skating and is the strategy used by top-class speed skaters to build up their race. Stoter shows that the pacing behaviour of juniors changes between the age of 13 and 19. All juniors initially develop pacing behaviour that consists of a relatively faster middle section and a relatively slower start. But the juniors that eventually perform the best are the ones that develop pacing behaviour that is closer to that of the senior top-class skaters than their less successful fellow-juniors.
Good technique over 1,500 metres
Her research also reveals that skating technique tends to deteriorate during the course of the 1,500 metres; this is true of all speed skaters, irrespective of their achievements. The faster skaters retain a better technique during the race, with a narrower knee and push-off angle than the slower skaters.
Coaching juniors to reach the top
According to Stoter, although the path to the top is different for everyone, her thesis could be used to offer scientifically underpinned coaching to current and future juniors. She has put her research into practice and developed special tools for coaches to compare the performance development of their pupils with that of former top-class skaters. This will help to train future top-class 1,500-metre speed skaters.
Inge Stoter (1987, Eindhoven) studied human movement sciences at the University of Groningen, specializing in sports sciences. She conducted her research in the SHARE research institute of the UMCG. Her thesis is entitled: ‘Staying on track, The road to elite performance on the 1500m speed skating’. She will continue working as manager of the Thialf Innovation Lab after the PhD award ceremony.