Nao Kodaira (JPN) powers down the ice in the 500m Ladies on Friday 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Nao Kodaira grabbed a much-coveted 500m gold on her home track to start the fourth leg of the ISU World Cup in Nagano, Japan, on a high note. Ivanie Blondin (CAN) continued her remarkable run of form by adding the Mass Start gold to the ones she collected in the 1500m, 5000m and Team Pursuit in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, last weekend. To conclude Friday's action for the women, the Dutch ladies won the Team Sprint, with Dione Voskamp making a victorious first appearance in the squad.
500m Ladies: Kodaira sets the pace
Kodaira was eager to take gold in her own backyard after finishing third last week and she handled the pressure of the expectant crowd well.
"The first 100 meters were way better than last week," she said, referring to a mis-stroke at the start in Kazakhstan. "But my full lap was not as good. I could not really keep the pressure on my skates." With a time of 37.49 seconds she finished far behind her own 2017 track record of 37.13, although the Japanese sprinter will get another chance to set the pace in the second 500m on Sunday.
Victory in Nagano allowed Kodaira to take the lead in the overall World Cup ranking from Olga Fatkulina (RUS), who finished fifth this time around in 37.77. Another Russian, Angelina Golikova, came second.
Ladies' 500m medallists (left to right) Angelina Golikova (RUS, silver), Nao Kodaira (JPN, gold) and Vanessa Herzog (AUT, bronze) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Golikova picked up her second-ever World Cup gold in the 500m in Nur-Sultan last week and she was delighted to get a chance to skate against Kodaira in the final pair in Nagano. With 37.51, Golikova took silver a narrow 0.02 seconds behind the winner.
"It's my dream to fight against her [Kodaira]. She's such a high level athlete," Golikova said. "It's my big wish to be paired up with Kodaira [in the 500m] again the day after tomorrow."
The Russian knows what she has to do to get the better of her Japanese rival: "I have to improve my last 100m, because I always lose some speed in that part of the race," she said.
Vanesse Herzog (AUT) collected her first medal of the World Cup season, when she finished in 37.65 to take the bronze. "It's another step in the right direction," the Austrian said. Back in the A Division after her early-season troubles, the 500m world champion was confronted with more rivals than she has been used to in previous seasons, when she was the only skater seriously threatening Kodaira.
"I like it," she said about the competition. "It's not only Nao [Kodaira], but three Russians and Brittany Bowe (USA) as well. There are six girls who can win the 500m now."
ISU World Cup Speed Skating Standings 500m Ladies
That winning feeling: Ivanie Blondin surges to gold in the Mass Start 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Mass Start Ladies: Fourth gold in a week for Blondin
The Mass Start lived up to its name, with a lack of semi-finals meaning that a bunch of 24 skaters took their marks, instead of the usual 16. It resulted in a chaotic race, with a couple of crashes. When all was said an done, though, Ivanie Blondin did not let the traffic get in the way of a fourth World Cup gold in little more than a week.
"I find that all the drama always tends to happen right behind me," Blondin said. "There was a little bit in and around me, but I always managed to hold my ground."
Sharing the top position in the World Cup ranking with the absent Irene Schouten (NED) the Canadian started the race as the main favorite.
"I think the girls were fighting to be behind me today again," she said.
The ice was crowded for the Ladies Mass Start 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Among the chasing pack was Nana Takagi (JPN). The Olympic champion managed to shadow Blondin, but was unable to get past the Canadian and ended up with silver.
"Everyone knows that she is the strongest in the final sprint," Takagi said. "That's why I wanted to keep her in my view, but there's a gap in ability and power. I have to improve my power and my skills [to be able to beat Blondin]."
Mia Kilburg-Manganello (USA) saw the battle for Blondin's draft taking place just in front of her. "There were a lot of hands on hips," the US skater said. "It's unfortunate that there isn't some kind of repercussion."
Kilburg-Manganello was happy to stay clear to finish third, seizing a career-first World Cup medal. "That's why I crossed the line as if I had won," she smiled.
ISU World Cup Speed Skating Standings Mass Start Ladies
Netherlands ladies show the way forward in Team Sprint 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Team Sprint Ladies: Dutch delight ... again
Also celebrating a first World Cup medal was Dione Voskamp (NED). The 22-year-old sprinter made her first appearance in the Dutch Team Sprint squad and launched team-mates Michelle de Jong and Sanneke de Neeling to gold.
"I had to find my way," Voskamp said. "[As starting skater] you mustn't go flat out, you have to set up your team-mates as good as you can and I think I managed pretty well."
The Netherlands have won three out of four Team Sprint events this season in varying line-ups, leaving national coach Jan Coopmans with a difficult choice picking his squad for the upcoming European and world championships.
Third skater De Neeling, who has also skated with Michelle de Jong as starter and Jutta Leerdam in second, liked the Nagano set-up: "We're an all Frysian team," she joked, referring to Frysland, a province in the north of the Netherlands that includes the 'home of speed skating' Heerenveen.
"I skate a bit easier behind Michelle than behind Jutta [Leerdam], because Jutta has longer legs and Michelle and I have about the same leg length.
"But who will skate at the European and world championships also depends on who qualifies individually, because those are the ones that Jan [Coopmans] can pick from."
ISU World Cup Speed Skating Standings Team Sprint Ladies
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