Hungary’s outstanding Liu brothers once again proved too good for the rest as the men’s events at the 2019 ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships finished with a familiar sight: Hungary atop the podium.
Shaolin Sandor Liu celebrates leading Hungary to victory in the Men's Relay final at the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Led by elder sibling Shaolin Sandor, the Lius won a quite extraordinary four of the five gold medals on offer in Dordrecht, the Netherlands.
Having shared gold and silver between them in both the 1500m and 500m on the opening day of finals, Shaolin Sandor Liu stamped his unquestioned authority on proceedings on Sunday by waltzing to the overall individual title before teaming up with younger brother Shaoang Liu to lead his country home in the Men’s 5000m Relay.
“They are a level better at this moment,” Dutch skater Daan Breeuwsma said. “We all need to work really hard to catch them. They were too good this weekend, they deserved it all.”
Breeuwsma was part of the Dutch quartet which fought hard to stay level with the Hungarians through much of the relay final but ultimately, once first Shaoang and then Shaolin Sandor took the baton over the closing stages there was only ever going to be one result.
Shaoang Liu claimed two golds and two silvers in Dordrecht 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
“I am carrying too many medals today,” joked Shaolin Sandor, who left the Sportboulevard arena with three golds and a silver medal in his luggage. “I am really proud. I could get used to this feeling.
“We always come in believing that we can win but I think this is the first time we could actually do it.”
Breeuwsma did point out that it was the first time in recent memory his team has had to race without the powerful presence of four-time world champion, Sjinke Knegt who is recovering in hospital following a serious house fire.
“Without Sjinke it is different of course, it was a lot harder,” Breeuwsma said. “But I think we did pretty good, I think the silver was the max result we could get today. Hopefully next year Sjinke is back and we can go for first place again.”
Semen Elistratov broke the Liu brothers' dominance by taking the 1000m title 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
The day had started with a surprise: a men’s final in which a Liu did not triumph. After Shaoang Liu had fallen in his semifinal, Shaolin Sandor had the unfamiliar sensation of racing for gold without his younger brother in the 1000m finale. It proved a step too far with Russia’s Semen Elistratov bursting past the elder Liu at the start of the final lap to claim a seventh European career gold medal.
“I was missing my brother a little bit,” Shaolin Sandor laughed after the race. “My legs felt like stone, really heavy. I was biting my teeth together, I wanted to be winning but second is not bad at all.”
The 23-year-old’s relaxed attitude – he later revealed he had woken up and decided to “show off more” – meant he was far from fazed by the rare taste of defeat. Going into the 3000m superfinal with a healthy lead in the overall standings no doubt helped.
Shaoang Liu and Shaolin Sandor Liu (right) celebrate finishing first and second in the overall standings after the Men's 3000m superfinal 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Aware that neither Yuri Confortola (ITA) nor Vladislav Bykanov (ISR) – the eventual first and second place finishers – were a danger to the overall standings, the Lius were content to let the pair breakaway early and control the pack. The plan worked to perfection with Liu senior confirming overall gold and junior taking overall silver.
Elistratov added the overall bronze to his collection before joining the parade of skaters in awe of the Hungarian duo.
“Today they were just stronger,” the Russian said. “It was difficult to fight with them. I was very happy to win the 1000m gold and we wanted the relay gold so I was keeping some energy in the 3km for that but we weren’t able to stay with them.”
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