The 2020/21 ISU World Cup Speed Skating Series were shortened, but not less sensational. In two back-to-back weekends at Thialf Stadium in Heerenveen (NED), the remote spectators saw five track records, three skaters who overcame a crash to win a gold medal later on, and two maiden ISU World Cup Speed Skating wins. Young prodigies rose to the occasion, experienced veterans held their own, and a new Team Pursuit strategy proved to be prolific.
Kok comes, sees and conquers
Femke Kok collected most silverware of all skaters over the course of the two weekends. The 20-year-old Dutch sprinter won at her A Division debut in the season’s first ISU World Cup Speed Skating 500m race and went on to win all four, adding two 1000m bronzes for a total of six. Angelina Golikova (RUS) came second at close distance in all four 500m races and seems to be the only one to be able to challenge Kok in the upcoming ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships.
Daria Kachanova (RUS) is one of the skaters who got up again with a medal taking 500m bronze in the fourth 500m, after a tough crash in the first weekend.
Fight for every inch in Men’s 500m
While the first two podium spots in the Ladies’ 500m were rock-solid, the Men’s competition in the shortest distance saw four different winners. Dai Dai Ntab (NED) took his first individual ISU World Cup Speed Skating gold in four years and Artem Arefyev grabbed his maiden individual win on the final day of the first weekend.
World record holder Pavel Kulizhnikov (RUS) crashed in the first 500m of the series, but won the B Division on Sunday to find back his winning ways in the A Division with gold on Saturday in the second weekend.
Dutch veteran Ronald Mulder (NED) won Sunday’s race, grabbing his first individual ISU World Cup Speed Skating win since 2017, to confirm how competitive the Men’s 500m really is. “It’s all so close in sprinting,” he said. “You can either be tenth or win. That’s nerve-wracking for us Sprinters, you have to be so sharp, you have to fight for every inch. It’s great for the spectators and it’s also nice to be a part of that.”
Ntab, who stepped up to the podium three times and collected the full medal set with gold, silver and bronze, won the 500m classification.
Bowe and Krol rule middle distances
Brittany Bowe and Thomas Krol reigned in the middle distances, with the American winning the Ladies’ 1000m and 1500m twice and the Dutchmen taking three out of four. In the final race of the World Cup Speed Skating series, Krol took a tough blow from teammate and friend Kai Verbij, who beat him in the 1000m.
Verbij had crashed in Saturday’s 500m in the first weekend, and bounced back straight away with 1000m silver on Sunday. With his golden 1000m race in the second weekend, he skated the second fastest time behind Pavel Kulizhnikov’s track record in Thialf: 1:07.35, and he beat Krol in a face-to-face battle in the final pairing.
“it’s great, also to take that [second fastest track] time from Thomas,”Verbij said. “My approach to the 1000m was the same as last week, but back then I still had a bit of a sore neck due to Saturday’s crash. Now I was fresher and sharper.”
Krol was gutted: “Today he beat me fair and square, I have to be honest. Hats off to Kai. I skated a good race, and that’s what hurts the most, to skate a good race and still get beaten.” Whereas Krol won the 1500m classification undisputed, he had to leave first place in the 1000m ranking to Verbij. The two were tied in points, but Verbij had set the fastest time in the distance.
Track records in endurance events
Whereas the sprint and middle distances featured spectacular competition from newbies and veteran skaters, the endurance events delivered the most spectacular results. In the first weekend Irene Schouten clocked a time of 3 minutes and 57.15 seconds in the 3000m, breaking her personal best and the Thialf track record. “Last year I could only have dreamt about this,” she said. “This is the track where all the best skaters in the world compete. When your name is up on that board, that means you can skate pretty good.”
How celebrations did not last very long, however. Exactly seven days after Schouten’s 3:57.15, Natalya Voronina went under 3:57 lowering the track’s best to 3:56.85. The Russian world record holder in the 5000m was more than six seconds faster than she had been the previous week.
“It’s incredible how the level has gone up in the 3000m this season,” she said. “I had not expected to be this fast myself, because I did not skate very well over the past few weeks. I just wanted to skate well technically and aimed at a sub-four-minute time, but two laps into the race I felt good and I knew I could be really fast today.”
Coming third on the second Sunday, Schouten won the 3000m overall classification as a consolation for being thrown of the track record board. The Dutch endurance specialist also won the two Mass Start competitions in the Heerenveen Hub to bring her medal tally up to three golds and a bronze.
Roest rules 5000m
Patrick Roest raised the level in the first Men’s 5000m, crushing his own track record by 3.07 seconds in 6:05.14. Fast times in the B Division on Sunday morning had inspired the Dutchman: “Of course it’s tough to compare the B Division times [to those in the A Division], because they have quartet starts [with more drafting advantage],” Roest said, “But after seeing that, I knew that the ice was fast and I left on a track record time schedule.” Roest also won the second 5000m and consequently the overall classification.
Bergsma up again to Mass Start gold
After Arjan Stroetinga had won the first Mass Start in absence of teammate Jorrit Bergsma, the latter took the honor in the second weekend, despite crashing in the semis on Friday. In the final Bergsma made a powerful jump in with about six laps to go and managed to stay out of sight. Belgian Bart Swings (BEL) got silver after his bronze in the previous week, to secure the Mass Start classification.
New strategy pays off in Team Pursuit
In the Team Pursuit, the Norwegian Men came up with a new strategy that turned out to be as efficient as the idea is simple. Instead of changing up front to distribute energy amongst the three riders, Allan Dahl Johansson pulled in front for the full eight laps, with Hallgeir Engebråten and Sverre Lunde Pedersen pushing him in order to keep up the pace. The idea being that change-ups cost more time than energy distribution wins back.
Norway had tried their now tactic in the first ISU World Cup Speed Skating weekend already, finishing second behind the Netherlands, but having practiced it to perfection, they finished in 3:39.08 shaving 0.68 seconds off the 2012 track record by Dutch Jan Blokhuijsen, Sven Kramer and Koen Verweij. Norway thus secured the Team Pursuit ISU World Cup Speed Skating ahead of the Netherlands, who came fourth in the second weekend.
Canadian Ladies virtually beat Japan
The Canadian Ladies had looked at Norway’s Men closely and decided to lower their amount of change-ups as well. After already having won the first race changing up front every lap, they had Isabelle Weidemann pulling in front for four of the six laps in the second race. With Ivanie Blondin and Valérie Maltais in her back Weidemann anchored Canada to a track record in 2:54.64, beating Japan’s the previous track best by more than a second.
Beating the track record was amazing said Maltais, because the Japanese Ladies have been almost unbeatable over the past few years. “We beat them [Japan] virtually. Of course we need to acknowledge that they were not here and they’re strong. We should be ready for the moment that everybody will be present again.”
Where to Watch
Viewers will be able to watch the ISU Speed Skating competitions that will take place within the hub either via their national broadcaster / channel and for countries where there are no broadcasters, the ISU will offer a live stream on the Skating ISU YouTube Channel.
All the information is available in the Where to Watch which will be updated after each competition. The individual announcements and entry lists will be published under the respective events as soon as they are available. For further information regarding the ISU Speed Skating Hub please visit: https://www.isu.org/heerenveen2021.
Subscribe to the ISU Newsletter to receive the latest information from the ISU and you can also subscribe to the Skating ISU YouTube Channel to receive notifications when live streams or new videos are published.
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