Why Counterclockwise in Roller Skating Rinks?

One question you may have asked yourself sometimes: Why we are skating in the roller rinks usually counterclockwise direction? Also NASCAR races go counterclockwise, likewise most horse races, and track and field. Over the years I have heard three rationales for this fact.

For the first explanation we have to go back to the medieval times. Instead of skating, the people enjoyed themselves in mounted tournaments – to hit a brass ring with their lance whilst galloping past on a horse. Some skaters have perpetuated this style, but without the horse. In the 18th century gyms weren’t yet established, so carousels were developed, to practice these games. Because most people are right hander, these carousels turned in counterclockwise rotation to target the brass ring which was hung up at the outside. This direction became accepted for carousels in most countries – the origin of the anti-clockwise direction in roller skating rinks. Once again the Brits make an exemption. Their horse games were linked to noblemen’s battues. Horses are usually mounted from the left side. So carousels rotated clockwise, so the wooden horses could be mounted from the outside. In former times in the UK horse races were run exclusively right-handed. But skaters in the UK have recognized this mistake and are skating mostly counterclockwise in roller rinks. This would speak in their favor and enables us to skate together with the Brits without risk of injuries.

Other experts state, that the origins can be traced back much futher into the past, back to the Olympic Games, circa 700 BC. The ancient Hippodrome appears to be based on an anti-clockwise race with competitors coming up to the finishing line at the end of the straight. Later, in Rome, the chariot races in the Circus Maximus must also have been anti-clockwise. The Circus was overlooked by the emperors on the Palatine hill, so the finishing line was on the eastern side of the north, where the spina ended. Hence late emperors and kings dictate our skating direction? This would contradict the creative and free art of skating.

The reason can by also described hard natural science oriented. Most left-handed people prefer to draw circles clockwise and circulate in buildings clockwise, and most right-handed people prefer to draw circles counterclockwise and circulate in buildings counterclockwise. This is believed to result from dominant brain hemispheres, though some attribute it to muscle mechanics. Sounds plausibly. Although I doubt, that brains of skaters follows the usual structure.

You can choose your own explanation. For me the medieval tournaments with free knights and noblemen enjoying themselfes in games – I guess, that they have been partying hard – are satisfying the self-image of roller skaters most. So this is definitively my favorite.

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