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OLYMPICS

Why Do Speed Skaters Wear Glasses?

Ellen Gutoskey
Netherlands' Suzanne Schulting and China's Qu Chunyu during a 500-meter short-track quarter-final at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
Netherlands' Suzanne Schulting and China's Qu Chunyu during a 500-meter short-track quarter-final at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. / ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images
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The reasons skiers and snowboarders don goggles or glasses might seem a little obvious, especially if you’ve ever hit the slopes yourself. Sunlight reflected off the snow can make it hard to see, and UV rays can even damage your eyesight. Special colored lenses also create contrast, so your whole path won’t look like one flat expanse of whiteness. Not to mention that eyewear shields your eyes from any snow you displace (or that the wind blows into your face).

Olympic speed skaters, meanwhile, are racing inside on smooth ice. So why do they wear glasses?

According to NBC Olympics, glasses can increase visibility on indoor tracks, too, and some skaters’ lenses are tinted to help with that. And while the ice may look smooth from a distance, those sharp blades can kick up ice chips that could pose problems if they end up in your eyes. In the event of a crash, shatter-proof glasses also protect skaters’ eyes from errant blades and body parts.

But the biggest reason speed skaters opt for eyewear just might be their speed. Short-track speed skaters (who race around a roughly 111-meter track) can go as fast as 30 miles per hour or more, and long-track speed skaters (whose track is 400 meters long) sometimes hit about 35 miles per hour. The wind resistance generated by such speed—in a chilly arena—is enough to make any skater’s eyes start streaming with tears. Picture leaning your head out the window of a car that’s going around 35 miles per hour on a cold day: You’d probably want to be wearing glasses, too.

Stijn Desmet (in yellow) going sans-eyewear for the men's 1500-meter short-track final B in Beijing.
Stijn Desmet (in yellow) going sans-eyewear for the men's 1500-meter short-track final B in Beijing. / ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images

That said, glasses aren’t a requirement, and you’ll occasionally see speed skaters with uncovered visages. Belgium's Stijn Desmet, for example, has raced in Beijing without eyewear, as has China’s Zhang Chutong.

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