This weekend, U.S. Speedskating held an officials’ clinic in Milwaukee to cover changes in ISU Short Track Rules. Some of the changes were better received than others, with one in particularly causing some controversy. Some call it the beginning of “roller-derby style” skating. Others think it makes sense.
In the past, an official could disqualify a skater for an infraction called “cross-tracking.” If a passing skater crossed into another’s path and there was contact, the passing skater was in the wrong. S/He held all responsibility to pass cleanly.
The new rules allow officials to call infractions on either skater, depending on who actually does the contacting. If the passing skater causes contact, s/he receives the penalty. If the skater who was passed skates into the skater who is now ahead, s/he receives the penalty.
At this weekend’s Am Cup I event, this new rule was a hot topic with considerable confusion as to its implementation and affect on the sport.
Some believe it will cause much rougher skating, allowing aggressive skaters to push others into dangerous situations and causing a lot of tangles on the ice. This is a sincere concern for parents and skaters alike. You already have a sport in which racers fly across the ice with knives on their feet; there is no need to make the sport even more dangerous than it already is.
Others, however, think the cross-tracking rule was confusing to begin with and that this new rule allows officials more leeway to penalize whomever they feel is guilty of contact. Olympic Short Track Skating is, after all, a race between skaters and not a race against the clock, as is Olympic Long Track. There always has been and always will be contact.
I empathize with both camps, and I expect there will come a time when an official’s call will be vehemently rejected by spectators, half of whom will blame the passing skater for the tangle, while the other half claims just the opposite.
And a few skaters I talked with are reserving judgement for the moment. They plan to see how the new rule pans out over time and whether it benefits the sport or not.
Time will tell.