She may have clinched her 13th overall long-distance World Cup in 14 seasons but it did not come easy for Martina Sáblíková (CZE), who finished fourth in the 3000m at the ISU World Cup final in Heerenveen on Saturday. Isabelle Weidemann (CAN) won the last race and almost nudged the Czech leader into second place. "I was only four points, oh my god," a relieved Sáblíková said. Brittany Bowe (USA) rediscovered her early season form to secure the 1000m World Cup with a second place behind Jutta Leerdam (NED) in the last race of the season.
Canada's Isabelle Weidemann races to victory in the ladies 3000m on Saturday
Ladies' 500m: season first for Herzog
The World Cup final in the Thialf stadium started with the first ladies 500m race. However, Saturday's race was not decisive for the overall World Cup outcome, with another race to come on Sunday.
Vanessa Herzog (AUT), who won the 500m World Cup in the previous two seasons, made amends for a mediocre winter, winning her first World Cup race of this campaign.
The Austrian stopped the clock in 37.31 seconds to edge out Olga Fatkulina (RUS), who finished in 37.34. World Cup leader Nao Kodaira (JPN) took third place in 37.39 and will head into the final race with a 32-point lead over second-ranked Fatkulina.
Herzog was pleased to finally be back on the podium, although she had her doubts before the race.
"I changed to new blades this week. I didn't know how that would go, but it worked out well. The guy who always does my blades said the old ones were worn out – those were 10 years old."
ISU World Cup Speed Skating Standings 500m Ladies
Ladies 3000m: Sáblíková holds off Canadian challenge
Although Martina Sáblíková won her 13th World Cup title in 14 seasons, the ladies long-distance competition has been far from one-sided this season.
Going into the final race, the Czech endurance specialist had a 38-point lead over Isabelle Weidemann, who had won the first race of the season but not managed to top the podium since.
Before the top contenders took to the ice, Antoinette de Jong (NED) set a fast 4:00.03 in the fourth pairing.
Sáblíková took on Natalya Voronina (RUS) in the fifth pairing but was edged out by the World 5000m Champion, finishing in 4:02.13. Voronina clocked 4:01.33 to take bronze.
To claim the World Cup title, Weidemann needed to win the final race and for pair-mate Yevgenia Lalenkova (RUS) to finish ahead of Sáblíková.
Weideman did what she had to do. At 3:59.75, she was the only one to finish under four minutes, but Lalenkova could only manage ninth (4:06.00), and thus the Canadian had to settle for second place overall.
Sáblíková had been nervous before the race, but the 32-year-old could not have been happier afterwards.
"I’m more nervous now than I was when I was 25 years old. I lay awake at night, thinking about my opponent in the race. And I was so tired. I thought, oh, it's only 55 minutes until the end of the season."
So, for yet another season she finished on top of the podium, but Weidemann and her third-ranked compatriot Ivanie Blondin (CAN), who came sixth in the final race of the season, provided Sáblíková with a tough challenge.
"Now there are so many women who can skate, on the podium [in the long distances], I love it," Sáblíková said.
Weidemann was happy to finish the season as strong as she had started it, but struggled to explain her lack of competitiveness at the World Singe Distance Championships in Salt Lake City in February.
"I've got a lot of questions there. I did not necessarily get sick or train differently. I think my body got really tired.
"It was a struggle to race through World Cup 5 (in Calgary in February) and the World Single Distance Championships, and I’m really disappointed with how it went. Therefore, I'm happy to finish the season on a high note."
ISU World Cup Speed Skating Standings 3000m Ladies
Jutta Leerdam (NED) is flanked by silver medallist Brittany Bowe (USA), and Japan’s Miho Takagi (bronze) during the medal ceremony for the Ladies 1000m final
Ladies 1000m: Bowe bounces back
Brittany Bowe (USA) had a similar season to Weidemann, starting and finishing strong, but disappointing in between.
At the World Cup final she at last got back in the groove, having won the first three World Cup races of the season in November and December.
Bowe did not win in Heerenveen, but coming second in 1:13.98 was enough to secure the overall World Cup title.
"It's obviously been a disappointing month and a half," Bowe said about not winning any medals at the World Single Distance Championships and the World Sprint Championships.
"We are athletes, we always want things to go our way, but the reality is that it doesn't always go your way."
It did not completely go Bowe's way here, but enough to make her smile.
"I went in to win, but to look up and see number two next to my name, it felt like a win, and then to be able to take the overall title, that shows consistency.
“The year is obviously overshadowed by disappointment, but I don't want to forget how well I skated and how dominant I’ve been this season, too."
Jutta Leerdam (NED) won the final 1000m race of the season in 1:13.69, capping a superb campaign of firsts.
In January, the 21-year-old won her first European title in the 1000m, in February she added her maiden World title, and at the World Cup final she concluded with a first World Cup podium.
"There's a lot of things I can improve, but I'm very happy with this race. It's the cherry on the cake and a motivation to work hard to step up my game again for next season.”
ISU World Cup Speed Skating Standings 1000m Ladies