Since 2015, Choi Min Jeong (KOR) has been the undisputed queen of Short Track, winning World Championship gold medals each year, almost for fun. So after an indifferent start to the season, Saturday’s crowds at Utah’s Olympic Oval were thrilled to see the Korean skater return to winning ways with gold in the Ladies’ 1500m at the ISU Short Track World Cup in Salt Lake City.
Choi Min Jeong leads the Ladies' 1500m final in Salt Lake City, 2018 © International Skating Union (ISU)
But Choi’s victory came as a slight surprise to many, not least the skater herself. In Calgary last weekend, she was wildly off the pace, failing to even reach the semi-finals in the 500m competition. However, she was at her predatory best over the longer distance in Salt Lake City, spotting a gap through the field with a handful of laps to go, and then racing clear to clinch victory.
“I’m very pleased and excited to have a gold but I think I got a little bit lucky today,” Choi said . “I did not expect this result because I have been struggling this season. I got a knee injury earlier this year so I’m finding the season really hard so far.”
Ominously for the rest of the world, Choi still feels that she’s racing at a fraction of her best form. “The power and speed that I need is not yet coming back,” she said. “Maybe I will be back to my best by March (for the World Championships, in Sofia, Bulgaria).”
(Left to right) Kim Ji Yoo (KOR), Choi Min Jeong (KOR) and Li Xuan (CHN) after the Ladies' 1500m final in Salt Lake City, 2018 © International Skating Union (ISU)
Choi’s compatriot Kim Ji Yoo, and Li Xuan (CHN), claimed silver and bronze respectively, while much further back Camille de Serres-Rainville (CAN) was ruing abandoning her pre-race plan after finishing fifth in the first World Cup A final of her career. “I planned to start at the back and then do a big outside pass at the end,” she said. “But with five laps to go, I saw that things were happening up front. So I tried to go inside, but it wasn’t my best decision. I lost all my speed and I ended up finishing far behind.”
At 23, de Serres-Rainville may be three years older than Choi, but there’s a vast gulf in experience between the two skaters. But after racing alongside one of Short Track’s legends, she’s now hungry for more success.
“She’s extremely impressive in every way,” de Serres-Rainville said of Choi. “It was a weird feeling beforehand, because I’ve watched so many finals in my life and now I’ve been in one. But I’m in the game, I know I can make finals, and maybe later I can make some podiums. I need more patience in races, and I need to control my emotions a little bit, but I want more now.”
Meanwhile, Suzanne Schulting (NED) continued her complete dominance of the Ladies’ 1000m, clinching another gold to go with the two she collected over 1000m and 1500m in Calgary. The Olympic champion looked a class above the rest of the field from the heats all the way through to the final, passing her opponents at will.
Suzanne Schulting celebrates after winning the Ladies' 1000m final in Salt Lake City, 2018 © International Skating Union (ISU)
Afterwards, Schulting said that her victory in Salt Lake City almost felt even better than her crushing 1000m performance in Calgary – where she finished meters ahead of the rest – because it was achieved despite feeling heavily fatigued.
“Calgary gave me a lot of confidence,” she said. “I was skating so strongly last week but given that I’m still able to win when I’m a little tired here, I think that’s a double, triple win.”
So far, Schulting has been the dominant female skater on the World Cup circuit this season. While she was secretly hoping for this level of individual success, before the season began, she’s still trying to wrap her head around the array of silverware she’s already amassed.
“My third gold in two weeks is crazy,” she said. “At the beginning of this summer, I was going for that, but to achieve it is really crazy. I’m super happy with it. Of course I’m still super nervous before the finals but I think I’ve proved to everyone that after the Olympics I’m still able to win and it wasn’t a one off.”
Sofia Prosvirnova (RUS) and Maame Biney (USA) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
Just as in Calgary, Russia’s Sofia Prosvirnova followed Schulting across the line in the silver medal position, while Fan Kexin (CHN) took bronze. Alyson Charles (CAN) was not able to match her medal-winning performances in last week’s 500m sprints, finishing fourth, but she was still satisfied with making the final in her less-favored race.
“The 500m has always been my favorite but I’m working on the others to enjoy them more,” she said. “The 1000m is more a mix of endurance and speed. I was doing well in the race until Suzanne passed me in the last two laps but I’m proud of what I did. I didn’t expect these results at all, it’s not something I was even thinking of when I came to these World Cup events.”
In the World Cup classification standings, Schulting and Prosvirnova are comfortably in first and second place in the 1000m, with 20,000 and 16,000 points respectively, ahead of Veronique Pierron (FRA) in third place, with 9,021 points.
In the 1500m, Choi’s victory has lifted her above Schulting into first place with 14,096 points. Ekaterina Efremenkova (RUS) lies third with 9,021 points.