The heats of the 500 m got underway immediately after the opening ceremony. The 16 competitors were divided into three heats, with the first two in each heat qualifying for the final. The first race got underway with Japanese Shozo Ishihara taking the lead, but he was caught by local hero Jack Shea on the backstretch. He raced shoulder to shoulder on the final straight with North American champion Frank Stack of Canada, easing up before the finish as their gap to the rest was sufficient. Defending Olympic Champion Evensen was drawn in the second heat, which he won ahead of Willy Logan, who surprisingly eliminated Ray Murray, one of the favourites. In the final heat, a third Canadian - Alex Hurd - qualified for the final, while John O’Neil Farrell edged out his team-mate Allan Potts for the last berth. Norway’s Haakon Pedersen, one of the favourites, failed to qualify after being obstructed by Farrell, but no protests appear to have been lodged. Pedersen took revenge two weeks later, winning the 500 m at the World Championships, also held in Lake Placid.
After the first half of the Canada–USA hockey game, the competition resumed with the final. Three Canadians (Stack, Logan, Hurd), two Americans (Shea, Farrell) and one Norwegian (Evensen) formed the field. Starting positions were decided by the drawing of lots, resulting in the following set-up (inside-to-outside): Evensen, Farrell, Shea, Logan, Stack, Hurd. Farrell and Shea tried to switch positions, but they were recalled. Shea opened up a gap with the pack directly from the start, followed by Evensen and Logan. Going into the final curve, Shea had a 3 yard gap on the Norwegian, which he managed to extend further in the final 100 meters, breaking the finish tape with 5 metres on Evensen, who was followed by Hurd, Logan, Stack and Farrell. His time of 43.4 was the fastest time of the season up to that moment, and equalled the Olympic Record.
After the race, the three medalists became the first Olympians to be awarded their prizes on a podium, as it is still done today. The ceremony was far less organised than it is now, the podium being crowded by bystanders and nearly invisible for most spectators. An embarrassing incident occurred when IOC president Henri de Baillet-Latour handed out the wrong medals to Evensen and Hurd. The two skaters were standing on the wrong side of champion Shea, but this was not noticed by the highest Olympic official.