Suzanne Schulting (NED)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
Olympic champion Suzanne Schulting (NED) spearheaded a dominant performance by the Dutch women’s team, which collected two golds and a silver on the final day of the ISU Short Track World Cup at the Calgary Olympic Oval.
Before the competition began, Schulting had expressed a desire to consistently establish herself on the World Cup circuit as the skater to beat over 1000m and 1500m to prove her 1000m gold at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics was far from a fluke.
She did just that this weekend. But while Schulting won Saturday’s 1500m final by a mere hair’s breadth from Courtney Lee Sarault (CAN), she showed her class in Sunday’s 1000m final, leaving the rest of the field chasing thin air as she finished more than a second ahead of Sofia Prosvirnova (RUS) and Veronique Pierron (FRA).
Sofia Prosvirnova (RUS), Suzanne Schulting (NED) and Veronique Pierron (FRA)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
Schulting explained that a hard summer’s training has been crucial to her early-season success. While many of the world’s leading skaters took several months away from the sport after March’s World Championships, she said her success in PyeongChang had made her hungry for more.
“I went for a vacation for five weeks after the Worlds and cleared my mind, let it all go, and then I was ready to put in some hard work to try and win more medals this season,” she said. “It’s still a little bit unreal to think about that Olympic final. I’ve watched it back several times, and each time I’m like, ‘This is so crazy’. But I think it helped focus me for the whole summer. And then the first race this weekend I was a little nervous, but after that it was all gone, and I was really relaxed and skating well. There’s always pressure on you after you win something, and it gets more and more as you get better, but right now, things are perfect.”
Veronique Pierron (FRA)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
For 29-year-old Pierron, emotions were running high after claiming her first individual World Cup medal in almost a decade of trying. “I’m so happy,” she said. “I think the Calgary public just gave me extra energy today. Of course, Suzanne is really strong, and I think she’s in exceptional shape right now. I was just trying to be on the podium. I now hope that this medal will inspire more kids back in France to give short track a go and take up this amazing sport.”
Schulting later collected her third medal of the weekend as the Netherlands claimed silver behind China in the mixed relay.
But while Schulting’s success went with the form book, Lara van Ruijven’s (NED) triumph in Sunday’s women’s 500m sprint came as a big surprise, not least to the athlete herself.
Lara van Ruijven’s (NED)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
“It’s been three years since my last World Cup medal so to finally get one again is unbelievable,” she said. “This is the best individual result of my career, as usually my medals come from relays. I won a relay medal at the Olympics earlier this year, which was surreal enough, but now another dream came true.”
Saturday’s women’s 500m sprint champion Natalia Maliszewska (POL) had qualified comfortably for Sunday’s 500m final, winning her quarter-final and semi-final races, but ran out of steam, finishing fourth. However, the biggest surprise of all was the performance of reigning world 500m champion Choi Min Jeong (KOR), who went out in the quarter-finals, blaming a lack of fitness.
Choi would later pick up a silver medal as part of the Korean team in the women’s 3000m relay, behind champions Russia, but she explained that this World Cup had come slightly too soon for her.
“I think I’m not ready right now for this competition,” she said. “After the Olympics I made many changes and took much time off. My focus for the season is to be ready for the World Championships next March, so I’m not yet in good condition. At the moment, I don’t really have the power, strength and speed I need to be challenging for individual medals.”
Fan Kexin (CHN), Van Ruijven Lara (NED) and Alyson Charles (CAN)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
But for the local fans at the Calgary Olympic Oval, the abiding memory of the weekend will be the performances of the next generation of Canadian skaters. Alyson Charles (CAN) finished with three medals from her first World Cup after coming third behind van Ruijven in the 500m and picking up another bronze for Team Canada in the women’s 3000m relay.
“If someone had said that I’d end up with three medals before this weekend, I’d have been like, ‘Are you crazy?’” said Charles. “There’s so much I can take out of this weekend. I mean, I was initially excited just to make the semis yesterday. Getting that first bronze was really something, and helped me believe I did deserve to be here competing, and then it was so nice to be able to win something as a team with the other girls. We’re always competing individually, but working together to win a World Cup medal helped finish the weekend on such a great note.”