The following information has been taken from the Speed Skate Canada manual.
The 3000m short track relay involves 27 laps around the 111.1m track. Each team of four skaters is distinguished by their helmet cover (ie green, black, pink, orange etc). Teams have pre-established their order of skating and their strategy of how many laps they will skate each time it is their turn. When it is time to switch skaters the incoming skater must be tagged – this is usually in the form of a push. Many hours are spent perfecting the timing of this push that has to take place between the blue lines on either side of the rink. The idea is that the incoming skater skates is just inside the cups and enters the exchange zone precisely as the outgoing skater is there. The incoming skater gets into basic position and braces themselves for a strong push propelling them forward. Once the outgoing skater pushes, they must clear the track without impeding others. This can be a crowded area as many teams might be attempting this maneouver at the same time!
If a skater falls it is the duty of the other team members to be ready at all times and come onto the skating area to be tagged by hand and then continue skating. Those in the centre of the ice therefore are getting ready for their turn and are being vigilant for a fall of the primary skater.
The referee is busy watching all skaters for any infractions such as tagging out of the zone and impeding another skater.
Place judges and timers have a busy time as well, keeping track of how many laps are left on their assigned team colour. They are to have a sheet of paper numbered from 1-27. As soon as the gun is fired, they mark off the number 27 on their tally sheet as the next time the skater passes the finish line, there will be 26 laps remaining. Each place judge/timer are to watch only their team. We will also have a lap counter assigned to each team who have flip cards to directly show the skaters. The lap counter flip cards are often colour coded and each person will probably be wearing a helmet cover as well! When the first place coloured relay team has 3.5 laps left, they are to alert the starter who will fire the pistol as the team crosses the line, thereby signalling there are 3 laps remaining. The gun is only fired for the first place team.
For the skaters, once the gun has signalled 3 laps remaining, there can be only one more skater exchange. When there are two laps remaining, that skater must complete both unless there is a fall.
It is truly organized chaos as anything can happen in these very exciting races!
Olympic Gold Medal Men’s 5000m Short Track Relay – Vancouver, 2010
(Canada skates for Gold at 14:12 in the video)