In the cut-throat world of Short Track Speed Skating, the idea of an athlete being disappointed with World Cup gold, because he really wanted to finish second, may sound somewhat preposterous. But that’s exactly what happened in Saturday’s Men’s 1000m race at the Utah Olympic Oval in Salt Lake City.
With Shaoang Liu (HUN) leading the World Cup classification standings for the distance after clinching gold last weekend in Calgary, brother Shaolin was determined to do whatever it took to keep his younger sibling at the top of the tree.
Men's 1000m medalists (left to right) Ren Ziwei (CHN), Shaolin Sandor Liu (HUN)y and Park Ji Won (KOR) in Salt Lake City, 2018 © International Skating Union (ISU)
“My plan was to let him win,” Shaolin revealed afterwards. “I wanted him to stay at the top of the classification. So my plan was to try and help him as much as I could. I’d already agreed this with myself yesterday – he would win, and I would come second.”
For the majority of the race, it looked as if the plan was working perfectly, with Shaoang leading from the front and his brother carefully shadowing him, just behind. But the other skaters didn’t want to play ball. With Ren Ziwei (CHN) and Park Ji Won (KOR) closing in, Shaolin eventually decided he had to go for individual glory.
“I was blocking the Korean and Chinese skaters but I felt my brother’s speed wasn’t quite enough to get to the line so I had to make a really hard decision and pass him,” he said. “It was a tough race. The others were racing really hard. Obviously I’m still really happy I won the 1000m but I’m also disappointed he didn’t win. But maybe we’re just going to alternate with each other. Last week he won, this time it’s me, maybe next time it’ll be him again and we can make it as one and two. We will see.”
Sjinkie Knegt (NED) leads his Men's 1500m semi-final at ISU World Cup Short Track in Salt Lake City, 2018 © International Skating Union (ISU)
There was additional disappointment for the Liu brothers: while they initially thought they’d both made the podium, with Shaoang edging out Park Ji Won for bronze, the judges ultimately ruled that Shaoang had impeded the Korean skater in the closing meters. They awarded Shaoang a penalty, meaning Ren and Won took silver and bronze.
“This is Short Track, this is how it works,” Shaoang said afterwards. “You have to touch nobody because you never know what will happen.”
Meanwhile in the Men’s 1500m, Sjinkie Knegt (NED) returned to form after a disappointing showing in Calgary last week. Knegt comfortably claimed gold ahead of Lee June Seo (KOR) and Steven Dubois (CAN), pumping the air in delight after crossing the line. However afterwards, he was keen to play down the apparent dominance of his victory, revealing that midway through the race, he wasn’t sure he could win.
“With nine laps to go, I didn’t expect to win it but I’m pretty happy with how it went and that I could finish first,” he said. “My conditioning is definitely not as good as it needs to be but I feel I’m getting better and better with every race. Monday we go back home, start training again, and I hope I can be better for the next competitions. Hopefully the others will have to watch out later in the season.”
Competing in just his second World Cup competition, Dubois was delighted to have claimed a medal, pipping his far more experienced compatriot Pascal Dion, to the podium.
Kazuki Yoshinaga of Japan keeps his focus in Salt Lake City, 2018 © International Skating Union (ISU)
“It’s amazing,” he said. “Kind of like the feeling I had when I won my first medal at the Juniors. It was very fast at the end and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it but I gave it my all, and I guess I got there. Right now, it’s all just a complete surprise every day and I hope it’s going to get better and better every competition. I’m going to go for the first place next time. I know that I have the legs.”
Despite the best efforts of the Liu brothers, Ren Ziwei currently tops the World Cup classification standings for the men’s 1000m with 14,400 points while Shaoang and Shaolin are back in third and fourth positions with 13,277 and 10,000 points respectively.
In the Men’s 1500m, Lee June Seo comfortably tops the standings with 16,000 points after claiming two silver medals in two weeks, while Knegt’s gold moved him up to third, just behind Calgary gold medalist Kazuki Yoshinaga (JPN).