(SportsNetwork.com) - Short track speedskating was added to the Olympics at the 1992 Albertville Games and has expanded to include eight combined events for men and women.
Unlike speedskating, racers in short track speedskating compete directly against each other instead of a clock. Shorter distances on tighter tracks require competitors to not only exhaust themselves physically, but to also theorize and plan strategically how to combat foes.
It's not uncommon to witness falls and collisions that can greatly alter the outcome of events, opening the door for the possibility for a variety of outcomes. North America tended to dominate the sport initially, but as of late China and South Korea have emerged as serious competitors who have taken the discipline to a different level.
The eight different events for the short track are split evenly between men and women. They compete in races of 500, 1,000, and 1,500 meters individually. The women team up for a 3,000-meter relay and the men's is 5,000 meters.
The absence of Apolo Anton Ohno -- the most decorated American Winter Olympian of all time -- has opened the door for J.R. Celski to claim the throne as the biggest United State short track speedskating star.
While Ohno was picking up the silver in the 1,500 and the bronze in the 1,000 four years ago, Celski's talent was just starting to appear. He claimed the bronze in the 1,500 and also competed in men's relay team that won the bronze in Vancouver. Celski figures to be one of the racers to beat this year, as well as in the immediate future.
While Celski might be the future of the sport for the Americans, Russia's Viktor Ahn will most likely be making his final reach for glory in these games. Formerly known as Ahn Hyun-Soo when he competed for his native South Korea, Ahn failed to qualify for the Vancouver Games and began training in Russia where he was granted citizenship and thus decided to skate for his new country in what is most likely his final Olympic run. Hoping to bring Russia its first ever short track medal, Ahn's prior injuries may have slowed him a bit, but still he is one of the most notable names in the sport.
Already established as one of his sport's biggest stars, Shani Davis hopes to make history as he attempts to become the first American man to win the same event at three Winter Olympics in the 1,000-meter race. A bit long-in-the- tooth compared to most athletes in the event, the 31-year-old brings with him a wealth of experience that cannot be overlooked.
As the Chinese female athlete with the most Winter Games medals, Meng Wang grabbed the gold in Vancouver in both the 500 and 1,000 individual runs and figured to be a favorite in the 1,500 as well, but she lost her footing and crashed into the wall, ending her attempt at a sweep. She did bounce back to aid in her team's capture of the 3,000 relay gold, but this time around she wants to prove she can do it all and rebound from a missed opportunity four years ago.
Katherine Reutter had been one of the top American stars in the sport, winning the silver in the 1,000 meter in Vancouver and adding a bronze in the team relay, but injuries forced her to retire at the age of 24 last year.
Attempting to become one of the new faces for the sport in North America will be Aly Dudek and Heather Richardson. Both women will have their hands full taking on the more notable performers from China and Korea, not to mention Canada.
Canada will bring a strong short track team to Sochi, headed by two-time Olympian Charles Hamelin, who won two gold medals in Vancouver -- in the 500 meters and the relay -- which followed his relay silver medal in Turin. Joining Hamelin on the men's team will be his brother Francois and Olivier Jean, both with prior Olympic experience, and newcomers Charle Cournoyer and Michael Gilday.
Marianne St-Gelias, who won two silver medals in Vancouver, and Jessica Gregg (silver medal in relay) lead the Canadian women's team.
Competition gets underway on Monday, Feb. 10, with the first medals being awarded in the men's 1,500 meters.