Nao Kodaira (JPN) returned to her winning ways in the 500m, but her compatriots in the ladies' Team Pursuit suffered a first loss after three seasons of invincibility at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating in Tomaszów Mazowiecki, Poland, on Saturday. The Russian team took advantage of a weakened Japanese line-up, edging out the Netherlands by 0.12 seconds to take gold.
Nao Kodaira (JPN) on her way to the gold medal in the 500m in Tomaszów Mazowiecki on Saturday 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Kodaira calm and composed
Winning the 500m in a track record time of 37.77, Kodaira made amends for the bronze medal that broke a streak of 23 World Cup golds in the 500m last week in Minsk. "That was a bit unlucky," the victorious Japanese said about her race in Belarus. "I was too busy in my head. A lot of things happened. I had to start three times. This week it was better, I only focused on my own skating."
Kodaira was referring to her race in Minsk versus Vanessa Herzog (AUT). The Austrian was disqualified after two false starts and was relegated to the B Division. Herzog also bounced back from disappointment confidently winning the B Division race in Poland. She set 38.03, just 0.09 above her own track record. It would have been enough for bronze in the A Division.
Until Kodaira took to the ice in the final A Division pair, only Olga Fatkulina (RUS) had been faster than Herzog at the Arena Lodowa. The 29-year-old Russian, who last week grabbed her first individual World Cup gold in over five years, stopped the clock at 37.97.
"No good," smiled Fatkulina in a first reaction to her race. "My legs were very tired. I said to my coach that my legs were not good, but he said we had to train a lot last week to become better for the [World] Championships [Single Distances] in Salt Lake City (13-16 February 2020). I don’t like my result, but OK, I'm positive."
Thanks to her second place, Fatkulina retained the lead in the 500m World Cup, ahead of Kodaira and Daria Kachanova (RUS).
Nao Kodaira (JPN) flanked by Russia's Olga Fatkulina and Daria Kachanova 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Apart from Kodaira, Fatkulina was the only sprinter to break the 38-second barrier on Saturday. Kachanova took bronze in 38.08, despite a mis-stroke and a near-crash on the final straight towards the finish line.
ISU World Cup Speed Skating Standings 500m Ladies
Russia win Team Pursuit leaving Japan in disarray
Japan were on a 10-race World Cup winning streak heading into the first ladies' Team Pursuit of this season, but coach Johan de Wit (NED) could not field his favourite line-up. "[Ayano] Sato is not good at the moment. We don't know what's wrong but she couldn't skate today," he explained.
Without Sato, the sisters Miho and Nana Takagi (JPN) were not able to keep up with Russia in their race. Both teams were behind the time the Netherlands had set in the previous pairing versus Canada. Ireen Wüst (NED), Antoinette de Jong (NED) and Melissa Wijfje (NED) had finished in 3:02.88.
Russia managed to close the gap in the final lap and eventually beat the Dutch by 0.12 seconds, but Japan were left in disarray. Sato's substitute skater Nene Sakai crashed in the final lap. "We would not have won anyway," coach De Wit said. "They hit each other. That happens. This girl has never skated a Team Pursuit before and now she has to join the Takagi sisters, that's is quite something."
Miho Takagi did not want to blame Sakai either: "I touched her because I was too close behind and she was so tired that she crashed. We have always skated in the same line-up, so it's very difficult for her being new in the team."
Russia's Evgenia Lalenkova, Elizaveta Kazelina and Natalya Voronina en route to Team Pursuit gold 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
The Dutch team were disappointed to lose out on gold by such a small margin now that the Japanese dominance had finally been broken. "That's just too bad," Wüst said. "I think we were quite OK. We skated in this line-up for the first time and all the other teams regularly train together. Some things were good, others can be better. But over the past summer we have improved our approach to the Team Pursuit."
Wijfje agreed: "Last year we did not have a national coach and with the new national coach [Jan Coopmans] we are on our way up."
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