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From left to right: Ireen Wüst (NED) Miho Takagi (JPN) Annouk van der Weijden (NED)

Miho Takagi (JPN) grabbed the first ever Japanese World Allround Speed Skating title in the lions’ den on Saturday. The 23-year-old Olympic Team Pursuit Champion held off defending champion Ireen Wüst (NED) on the artificial ice rink, which was specially built for the ISU World Allround Speed Skating Championships in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Stadium.

The newly crowned world champion could not be happier after bringing the title home in front of a 25.000 spectator crowd. “I think this could be the last time in my skating life to experience such a great audience. I'm very happy,” she said.

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Annouk van der Weijden (NED)

Seven-time champion Wüst had to settle for a career fourth silver medal and Annouk van der Weijden (NED) concluded her Speed Skating career with her first ever medal at an ISU Championships event, seizing the bronze medal. She got redemption for her heart-breaking fourth place in the Olympic 5000m at PyeongChang 2018. “This is my first World Allround Championships and it’s my last tournament too, on an outdoor rink with this audience, it’s fantastic. It feels like everything comes together,” she said.

Takagi defies home crowd in 1500m
Ireen Wüst already said that she was not going to settle for silver after the first day of the Championships. She kept her promise in the 1500m. The defending champion faced classification leader in the final pairing of the 1500m.

Before the top-dogs took the ice, Francesca Lollobrigida (ITA) had clocked the fastest time in 2:00.48. Luiza Zlotkowska (POL) had already set a new track record in 2:01.80 in the second pair. Lollobrigida met Annouk van der Weijden (NED) in the ninth pairing and the two fought a tight battle, with Van der Weijden finishing just 0.46 behind the Italian. Antoinette de Jong (NED) had to concede her third place in the classification to Van der Weijden, when she clocked 2:01.90 in the penultimate pair. De Jong only took sixth place in the final 1500m result. Lollobrigida and Van der Weijden were ranked first and second when the 1500m came to a climax with Wúst and Takagi.

Takagi took an early lead, defying the loud cheers for Wüst of the 25.000 home spectators in the packed stadium. Wüst managed to hang in and even skated a slightly faster first full lap. Both skaters set a 31.1 second lap at the 1100m split, and Takagi was 0.15 ahead. Wüst was slightly faster in the final lap, but Takagi managed to keep her at bay and finished in 1:58.82. Wüst was only 0.07 slower.

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Ireen Wüst (NED) Miho Takagi (JPN)

Wüst attacks, but Takagi holds her ground
In the final 5000m, Takagi defended a 11.61 second lead over Wüst. But before the gold medal race between the Japanese challenger and the Dutch reigning champion, the public was treated to a tight three dog fight for the bronze. Van der Weijden was only 0.15 seconds ahead of De Jong, and 0.18 seconds ahead of Lollobrigida.

The Italian lady was the first of the three to take the ice, and she stopped the clock at 7:32.35. De Jong and Van der Weijden faced each other in the penultimate pair and they skated well under Lollobrigida’s time. They fought a tough battle, in which De Jong eventually had to bow her head for endurance specialist Van der Weijden. With only one pair to go, she was sure of her podium spot and she celebrated as soon as she crossed the line. “I know I beat Lollobrigida’s time, so I was sure of my medal. But that’s not something you have to think about during the race. I just wanted to beat Antoinette and skate fast,” she said.

Wüst managed to win the final 5000m in 7:26.85, ahead of Martina Sáblíková (CZE), who had set 7:28.17 in the first pair. The Czech endurance specialist ended up sixth in the classification. Takagi could not match Wüst’s pace, but she kept the title defender in sight and only conceded 3.08 seconds, clocking 7:29.93. “I knew I had an 11-second lead, but I wondered whether I could defend it. After the first three or four laps, I could keep up with her, so I knew I could win,” she said.

Wúst knew she hadn’t lost her title in the final distance: “I lost it in the 500m” she said. “The gap was just too big, but after the 500m I gave it my best and I went down fighting.”

Japan coach Johan de Wit was extremely proud of Takagi. “I know what it’s worth. I know how good you are when you beat Ireen Wüst,” he said. “We (Japan) show what’s possible if you handle things well, if you make sure everything around the team is managed well, everybody can skate as fast as Wüst does. The gap doesn’t have to be that big. Everybody looks up to Ireen Wüst and rightfully so because she is fantastic, but others can do it too. She’s not exceptional physically, she is exceptionally mentally tough.”

De Wit told his pupil to enjoy the moment: “I pointed at all the people in the stadium and said to her that they all stayed there despite the rain, because they love speed skating. I told her to be grateful, to show her gratitude to the people and to enjoy, which she did.”