Getting back into his stride: Pavel Kulizhnikov (RUS) enjoyed his return to action in Nagano 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Pavel Kulizhnikov and Danila Semerikov raced to gold in the 1000m and 5000m on Sunday to maintain their country’s stranglehold on the fourth leg of the ISU World Cup in Nagano. Russia’s men dominated the three days of competition, winning five out of seven events. With silver behind Semerikov, New Zealand's Peter Michael grabbed his first individual World Cup medal in two years.
1000m Men: Speed comes easy for Kulizhnikov
Pavel Kulizhnikov said that he “just wanted to skate a good race, as training” after being forced by the last-minute withdrawal of pair-mate Kim Tae-Yun (KOR) to skate alone in the opening pair of the Men’s 1000m.
He certainly did that. The Russian, who returned to World Cup action in Nagano after missing the first two legs of the season through injury, stopped the clock at 1:08.45, shaving 0.01 off Olympic champion Kjeld Nuis' 2016 track record to add a gold medal to the silver and bronze he had already picked up in 500m at this meet.
Worryingly for his opponents, Kulizhnikov insists he is not yet back to his best.
“My injury is over, but the foot is still a bit swollen sometimes and I cannot make all the movements I want to,” he said. “That's also why I raced as if it were a training today. This is my easiest victory ever."
Medallists in the Men's 1000m (left to right): Kai Verbij (NED, silver), Pavel Kulizhnikov (RUS, gold), Hein Otterspeer (NED, bronze) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Verbij had to settle for silver in 1:08.67 to take the overall World Cup lead from Krol, while Otterspeer clinched bronze in 1:08.95.
"Of course you are disappointed if you think you could have done better,” Verbij admitted. "I felt that I did not hit all my strokes well in the corners. This was a seven out of 10. With a nine I could have been way under [Kulizhnikov's time].
"But it's an OK race. I'm happy and now I'm going to focus on the Dutch national championships [27-29 December]."
Otterspeer did not skate a ‘perfect 10’ either, but the 31-year was happy to be back on the World Cup podium for the first time since March 2018.
"This was not my best race ever. I just came out of a training camp in Collalbo [Italy], add a bit of jet lag and that makes it difficult to be 100 per cent."
Representing any other country Otterspeer would easily qualify for the major tournaments but given the competition in the Netherlands he does not get too many chances at the top level.
"I'm happy to participate under the Dutch flag,” he insisted. “That makes me proud and I know I've got it in me. It all depends on injuries, which are always there. I know that if I keep that under control, I can be the best."
ISU World Cup Speed Skating Standings 1000m Men
Peter Michael (NZL, left) enjoyed a return to the podium, but Danila Semerikov (RUS, centre) snatched gold 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
5000m Men: Michael goes close, but Semerikov times his finish to perfection
After 5000m of racing and an agonizing wait, New Zealand’s Peter Michael ended up just 0.08 seconds short of gold at the weekend’s closing event.
Michael knows what it is like to win a World Cup 5000m, having topped the podium at Astana 2016, and his prospects took a lift with the absence from Nagano of Dutch No.1 and No.3 in the World Cup ranking Patrick Roest and Jorrit Bergsma.
"I told a couple of people last week that I was coming to Japan to hit the podium," he said. "I knew what time I thought was going to be required and I did that, so it was all smooth.
“But then it's a long wait to see what the others do."
Going off in the third pair, Michael skated 6:18.691, finishing with two fast 29-second laps.
"I've always had decent finishing, I guess it's from inline [Michael is a multiple world champion inline skater]. This is my style of racing, to bring it home."
Russia's Semerikov did just enough to top the podium in the World Cup's final event in Nagano 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
That style was enough for the podium, but not for gold. Four other pairs came and went before Russia’s Danila Semerikov registered 6:18.605 in the eighth and final pair to snatch top spot.
"I wanted to skate a balanced schedule [with equal lap times], and I wanted to be a little faster than him [Michael], but in the last few laps I did not have enough power," Semerikov said.
The victory means the Russian takes over top rank from Roest in the World Cup classification.
"I want to win the overall long-distance World Cup,” he said. “It will all come down to the World Cup final in Heerenveen [7-8 March]."
Semerikov's compatriot Aleksandr Rumyantsev took the bronze medal.
ISU World Cup Speed Skating Standings 5000m Men
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