Miho Takagi (JPN) ©ISU
Miho Takagi (JPN) set an immaculate 1500m World Cup streak so far this season. The 23-year-old Japanese skater is the woman to beat when it comes to the middle distance this season, but the competition is tough. The 2010 Olympic Champion Ireen Wüst (NED), world record holder Heather Bergsma (USA), fresh European 1500m Champion Lotte van Beek (NED) and the very consistent Marrit Leenstra (NED) are all chasing Olympic glory.
Whatever happens, PyeongChang 2018 will feature another champion than Sochi four years ago. Jorien ter Mors (NED) will not be able to defend her title after she failed to qualify for the 1500m at the Dutch trials in December. She did qualify for the 1000m after an injury-hampered first half of the season.
Takagi took her first major international silverware with bronze medals in the 1500m and the Mass Start at the 2017 ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships at the Gangneung Olympic Oval, but she really had her breakthrough year this season. Apart from winning four out of the four 1500m World Cup races in which she participated, Takagi also took three World Cup silver medals in the 1000m and a gold in the 3000m. With 1.51,49 she set a Japanese record and the third time ever skated in the 1500m. Only USA’s Brittany Bowe (1:51.31) and Heather Bergsma (1:50.85) have been faster. In the 3000m on Saturday, Takagi had to settle for fifth place.
Heather Bergsma and Brittany Bowe (USA) ©ISU
Troublesome run up for Bowe
The American skaters seek redemption for a failed Olympic campaign four years ago. Coming in as favorites in both the 1000m and the 1500m Bowe and Bergsma left Sochi emptyhanded. The expectations will not be so high this time. Bowe missed last season due to a severe concussion and it took a lot of effort to get back to the top.
“The physical strength comes back faster than the mental strength and confidence,” Bowe said. “But having a very successful World Cup in Heerenveen and having a really good 500m in Norway built my confidence. My goal at the Games is the same as it has been in the past eight years: I want to be on top of that Olympic podium.” Bowe thinks she has more chance in the 1000m, but she doesn’t count herself out for the 1500m.
Bergsma nailed it with gold in the 1000m and the 1500m and bronze in the Mass Start at last year’s World Single Distances Championships in Gangneung, but she struggled to find the right form so far this year.
The three Dutch contenders
Van Beek is the 1500m bronze medalist from Sochi. The 26-year-old skater struggled to come back after a torn cruciate ligament in 2015. At the European Single Distances Championships last January, she proved to be back on top winning 1500m gold. Her compatriot Marrit Leenstra, who trains with the Italian team with her husband Matteo Anesi as assistant-coach, has come second in three consecutive World Cup races in Calgary (CAN), Salt Lake City (USA) and Erfurt (GER).
Ireen Wüst won the Erfurt 1500m. She seems to bounce back from a tough first half of the season just in time for PyeongChang 2018. The Dutch record Olympian is chasing a fifth gold medal at her fourth Olympic Games. In Saturday’s 3000m she missed out on the gold by 0.08 seconds. She was disappointed and encouraged at the same time. “I have to be happy and I will be happy with silver, but I came for gold,” she said after the 3000m. Wüst lost ground in the 3000m in the final lap. She is convinced she’s got the speed and the 1500m is only half the distance. “This race gives me a lot of confidence”, she said.