Shaoang Liu (right) and Shaolin Sandor Liu complete a one-two in the 1500m final in Dordrecht 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
It is two down, three to go for Hungary’s Liu brothers after the pair proved a class apart as they grabbed a double gold-silver at the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Dordrecht, the Netherlands on Saturday.
The duo swept to the top two places in the 1500m and the 500m, leaving the field gasping in their wake. In what was a remarkable display of controlled power, pace and tactical acumen, elder brother Shaolin Sandor Liu took the honours in the opening 1500m with Shaoang second before the places were reversed in the later 500m.
That was, of course, all part of the plan for the siblings who have already won three individual World Cup titles between them this season.
“If we skate together, we always try and protect each other and get the best results we can. We were trying to make this race (1500m) for me a first place and for him a second place,” Shaolin Sandor Liu confirmed after the 1500m.
Shaolin Sandor Liu powers to victory in the 1500m final 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Despite appearances, Shaolin Sandor Liu, whose only previous European gold came in the 1000m in 2017, insisted that his triumph was not quite as easy as he and his younger brother made it look.
“I was fighting for my life, it was really tough,” said the 23-year-old, laughing. “I was so lucky my brother was behind me and I didn’t have to worry about who was passing me. I didn’t have to protect my second position, so it was easier to attack the first position.”
Shaoang Liu, 20, got his reward in the 500m, although he was made to sweat. The skater who had never before won a major individual title false started at the first attempt, so keen was he to reach the critical opening corner in front.
“I was a bit nervous after that,” Shaoang said. “But I just breathed out and in and started my routine again and then I got the start I wanted.”
Leading from the gun, the younger Liu never let anyone else get a sniff of the gold with Shaolin Sandor patrolling behind.
Shaoang Liu glides to glory in the 500m 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
“I guess it went to plan. It wasn’t totally perfect but there were no mistakes and if there were we were confident we could fix it,” Shaoang said. “Standing on the podium with Shaolin twice makes this the best day in our lives.”
Russia’s Semen Elistratov showed he is one of the few skaters who might prevent the Lius claiming a clean sweep when racing resumes on Sunday. The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games 1500m bronze medallist has serious European pedigree having twice finished as overall champion (2016 and 2017) and he added a bronze in the 1500m taking his haul in these championships to a whopping 18 medals.
The 28-year-old, who was 1500m world champion back in 2015, is certainly not giving up on the prospect of adding some further golds to that total, even with the Lius in such intimidating form.
“Yeah it was a tough race,” Elistratov said after the 1500m. “But it was not too bad. It’s hard racing against two of them but tomorrow in the 1000m and the superfinal, we will see. Maybe (he can beat them) it’s Short Track, anything can happen in Short Track.”
Semen Elistratov (RUS) took bronze in the 500m and will aim to stop the Lius completing a gold-medal sweep in Dordrecht 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Fellow Russian Pavel Sitnikov took bronze behind the Hungarians in the 500m, suggesting that Sunday’s 5000m Men's relay is one not to miss. The Russians took silver at last year’s European Championships, one place ahead of the Hungarians, and were the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games victors while Hungary took that title off them in PyeongChang in 2018.
However, the newly crowned European 500m champion Shaoang Liu did not sound too concerned about the rivalry.
“Of course we will try to do a clean sweep (of gold medals) tomorrow, it’s our mission,” he said, before adding with a grin, “It would be good if there was a third Liu, that would be funny.”
The idea of that may give the rest of the field nightmares.
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