A pulsating ladies’ 500m final was the highlight of a dramatic final day full of home success as the 2018-19 Short Track speed skating World Cup season ended amid jubilant scenes in Torino, Italy.
Martina Valcepina sealed a 500m World Cup double by winning gold on Saturday and Sunday in Torino © International Skating Union
A day after snatching gold in a desperately tight first 500m, Italy’s Martina Valcepina lined up for the second sprint final in a field featuring 500m world record holder Elise Christie (GBR) and 1000m Olympic champion Suzanne Schulting (NED). The wildly talented young USA skater, Maame Biney, who broke the junior 500m world record last month, completed the quartet.
The race between them was spectacular and ended just the way the crowd packed into the Tazzoli Ice Rink wanted, with Valcepina victorious.
“I was so much more relaxed because of yesterday. I could just go for it,” said the 26-year-old, who held off a determined Christie charge to win her third successive World Cup 500m gold medal.
In a dramatic twist Schulting fell halfway through, leaving Biney free to claim bronze in her first ever World Cup A final.
“It’s crazy. I didn’t even think I would make it out of my quarter,” Biney said. “I am just super excited and super happy I was able to skate against these awesome girls, let alone get a medal.”
The 19-year-old’s coach Wilma Boomstra is certain this will be the first of many such medals.
USA's Maame Biney (right) and Martina Valcepina were both celebrating at the end of the 500m final © International Skating Union
“She is phenomenally athletic, so strong,” Boomstra said. “And she has got so much to learn, so much experience to gather and confidence to get. This will certainly help.”
The skater in front of Biney has long been her hero and, for Great Britain’s Christie, the silver medal was confirmation that she is storming back to her best after a difficult 12 months.
“I feel like every race I have been building momentum and belief,” said Christie, who left the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games without a medal and utterly disconsolate. “Today I was trying to go round the outside of the fastest girl here (Valcepina) and after three months off and with a brand new coach that is such an achievement.
“I went for the outside because I need to test myself, learn new skills and that is the only way I am going to win that Olympic medal in three years. If you had talked to me six months ago I would not have been using that word. I am really excited about the next few years now.”
All of which left Valcepina soaking up the crowd’s acclaim. However, it is Poland’s Natalia Maliszewska who claimed the season-long 500m World Cup title, despite failing to qualify for the final after “clicking skates” in the semifinal.
“I am very happy, I wish I could have been in the final but that’s Short Track,” the Pole said. “I feel tired but I’ll rest for the next few weeks and then I’ll be fresh for the Worlds (the 2019 World Championships take place in Sofia, Bulgaria in March).”
Canada's Kim Boutin won the ladies' 1000m final in Torino © International Skating Union
Another skater looking towards Sofia is Canada’s Kim Boutin. The PyeongChang 2018 triple medal winner showed her undoubted pedigree by claiming the 1000m gold on Sunday, ahead of Korea’s Choi Min Jeong.
“I know I have the talent to do well but I have to work every time to get a medal,” said Boutin, who is revelling being one of the leaders in a vibrant, youthful Canadian squad.
“All the girls on the team are rookies but they are really strong in training and they help me be strong. I like being the senior, it’s another challenge. We need to build together. We have a good coach, a good structure; everything is for the best now.”
One of those rookies, Alyson Charles, took bronze behind Boutin and Choi, confirming that the Canadians will be ones to watch in Sofia.
But events in Turin ended as they started with the crowd cheering more home success. Led once again by Valcepina, the Italian women’s 3000m relay team brushed aside their lowly world ranking to snatch silver in the final behind the Netherlands.
Valcepina attributed the Italian team’s best weekend of the season to some encouragement she received from some very special fans overnight.
“My daughters drew the podium and put me on top again,” she said of her twin four-year-old girls. “They love to see me race but they always think I win, they think I am a super athlete. I am really excited for the whole team. Now we want the World Championships.”