Like the other skating events, the 1994 Olympic speed skating competitions were held in the town of Hamar, some 60 km south of Lillehammer. Hamar has a rich speed skating history. International championships had been held on the Mjøsa Lake outside of the town in the late 19th century. Later, competitions had been held at Hamar Stadion, where Hjalmar Andersen most famously skated his 16:32.6 world record in the 10,000 m, which lasted for 8 years. For the 1994 Games, a new indoor rink was built, the Olympia Hall. It is more generally known by its nickname, the Vikingskipet (“Viking ship”), as its roof resembles the hull of a Viking ship. The hall had opened in 1993, and was fast, as evidenced by four world records being skated during the the pre-Olympic World Cup competition and European Championships. During Olympic competition, four world records would fall, all in the men’s events.
While the program of the speed skating events had remained the same, entry regulations had become much stricter than in 1992. For the first time, skaters wanting to compete in the Olympics needed to achieve qualifying times. In addition, the number of competitors in the longest events was restricted. In the 3000 m (women) and 5000 m (men), only 32 competitors were allowed. The top 16 skaters in that event would earn one spot for their country in the longest distance (5000 m / 10000 m), which was restricted to 16 competitors. Despite this restriction, several countries débuted in Olympic speed skating, all due to the break-up of the Soviet Union. Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russian and Ukraine all entered for the first time. In addition Latvia returned after nearly 60 years, having last competed in 1936.
Media coverage of the men’s events was dominated by two skaters. Norwegian Johann Olav Koss emulated Hjalmar Andersen’s performance from 1952 by winning three gold medals in front of a home crowd, while Dan Jansen finally won a gold medal in the 1,000 m, after failing to do so in the 500 m for the fourth time. Of the female skaters, Bonnie Blair repeated her double victory of the 1992 Games, while expected triple champion Gunda Niemann surprisingly failed and )only) won a silver and a bronze medal.