Russia’s 5000m men’s relay team powered to victory and denied the all-conquering Koreans a fifth successive gold medal as the Short Track speed skating World Cup season ended in Torino, Italy on Sunday.
Russia's men ended their World Cup season with an impressive relay victory © International Skating Union
Korea had topped the podium in eight of the previous nine men’s World Cup races leading into the last event of the 2018/19 season, but after being penalised in their semifinal they could only watch as a dynamic Russian quartet flew to victory.
“It’s amazing, the first gold medal of the season for me,” said 22-year-old Denis Ayrapetyan. “It feels so good to win. We are all friends, we are so close. We spend so much time together: training, eating, playing games, everything.”
The rookie and his team faced the challenge of a determined Japanese quartet and the noise of an Italian crowd desperate to see their team finish with a flourish. They held off both – with Japan winning silver and Italy taking bronze – and Ayrapetyan identified Russia’s talisman Semen Elistratov as key to the team’s success.
“He is so strong, the leader of our team,” Ayrapetyan said of the seven-time European champion, who also anchored the Russian mixed relay team to gold. “Before I was in the team I always watched him and wanted to be like him.”
While Ayrapetyan is hopeful Russia can take such form into next month’s World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, it would take a brave pundit to bet against Korea taking home a heavy sack of gold medals.
Lim Hyo Jun (KOR) took gold to secure the overall World Cup 500m title © International Skating Union
For the second day in a row, Korean men claimed both individual gold medals, with two of their biggest stars showing their impressive versatility. A day after winning a third successive 1500m World Cup gold to secure the season-long title, Kim Gun Woo swept into the 500m final. But once there, the overall world No.1 found his compatriot Lim Hyo Jun just a little too hot to handle.
“He was too fast for me today,” Kim said of Lim, with a grin.
The gold saw Lim secure the overall World Cup sprint title by 1439 points from China’s absent 500m Olympic champion Wu Dajing.
“I got a great start today,” Lim said. “It’s fun to race with Kim and fun to beat him. I hope we win medals together at the World Championships. I always think just of going fast.”
The pair’s tussle against Dajing in Sofia, Bugaria is set to be one of the highlights of next month’s World Championships.
In the men’s 1000m it was a case of anything Kim can do, compatriot Hwang Dae Heon could do even better. Fresh from taking sprint gold on Saturday, the PyeongChang 2018 500m silver medallist turned his hand to the 1000m and won that too.
Korea's Hwang Dae Heon powered to victory in the men's 1000m final © International Skating Union
“I felt a bit tired but I was able to focus again,” Hwang said. “It’s exciting. All the training I have done has paid off.”
The 19-year-old was accompanied in the final by two of his teammates, Park Ji Won – who took silver and with it secured the overall World Cup 1000m title – and Hong Kyung Hwan. The three-pronged assault made it a tough afternoon for bronze medal winner Steven Dubois (CAN).
“I wanted to be a bit more in the front and went outside to do a little sneaky move but after that they were coming so fast. I was trying to hold them all but I didn’t manage,” Dubois said.
“Still, I wasn’t expecting a medal in the 1000m. It is kind of my weak distance but I went out and got something.”
It capped an impressive weekend for the Canadian, who also took bronze in Saturday’s 1500m.
All eyes now turn to the 2019 World Championships, with Dubois and others no doubt spending the next three weeks working out how to beat the Koreans.