Wu Dajing (CHN) proved that he remains the man to beat over speed skating’s shortest and wildest distance, kicking off the 2018/2019 ISU Short Track World Cup season by winning the Men’s 500m (1) race on a day of thrills and spills at the Calgary Olympic Oval.
Wu Dajing (CHN)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
Wu’s time of 39.836 seconds may have been comfortably inside the world record of 39.584 he set when winning gold at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in February, but he still had far too much for Shaoang Liu (HUN) and Kim Gun Woo (KOR), who trailed in behind to take silver and bronze respectively.
“It feels so good to be a champion again,” Wu said after the race. “I went out hard at the start, and I knew they wouldn’t be able to catch me.”
However, Liu, who finished fifth behind Wu in the 2017/2018 World Cup standings over 500m, was left regretting a slip in Friday’s heats that forced him to expend vital energy by winning through the repechage rounds on Saturday morning.
“It was a bit hard for me,” Liu said. “That fall meant I had to win through two repechage rounds before I could even qualify for the quarter-finals. By the time I got to the final, I’d already had four races today. So while I’m pretty happy with the result, maybe if I hadn’t had to go through all these extra races, I would have had a better chance. But who knows?”
Such has been Wu’s dominance of the 500m distance over the past year that he carries an air of invincibility every time he steps on the ice. However, Liu says he is ready to take full advantage at next week’s World Cup in Salt Lake City, should the Olympic champion slip from his usual high standards.
“For everyone, Dajing is too fast, it's hard to catch him,” Liu said. “I don't know how he does it. I did manage to follow him pretty closely in the semi-final, and in the final, my plan was to do the same, with the idea of passing him in the last one-and-a-half laps. But by the time we got to that point, I was just way too tired and I’d used all my energy, so there was no way it was going to happen. But as good as he is, he’s a human, too, so he still gets tired as well sometimes. If he’s tired in Salt Lake, I’ll be right there behind him.”
In the men’s 1500m, 19-year-old Kazuki Yoshinaga (JPN) enjoyed the biggest triumph of his young career, claiming his first ever World Cup title ahead of June Seo Lee (KOR) and Vladislav Bykanov (ISR).
Kazuki Yoshinaga (JPN)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
“It’s a big surprise for me,” Yoshinaga said. “This is my first senior medal on the world stage. So I wasn’t expecting it, but I knew that the ice is really fast here, and I have strong legs which gives me a lot of control, so I had belief. My positioning for the last three laps in the final was really good, so I just thought to myself, ‘I can, I can, I can’.”
Yoshinaga was the beneficiary of a series of dramatic upsets that blew the competition wide open, with the experienced Korean Hwang Dae Heon crashing out in the final, and PyeongChang 2018 silver medalist Sjinkie Knegt (NED) suffering a similar fate in the semi-final.
“I bumped into one of the Korean athletes on the top corner and we both went down,” said Knegt, after his semi-final exit. “It sucks, but it can happen when you’re in a race and trying to pass. I’m not in great shape after taking a long break after PyeongChang, so I’m just trying to get race experience for competitions later in the season. I’m confident that I will be back.”