After two major continental competitions in January – the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships and the ISU Four Continents Short Track Speed Skating Championships – the best Short Track Speed Skaters on the planet will be reunited for more ISU World Cup action in Dresden, Germany from February 7-9.
Those two major meetings have brought into sharp focus who the form skaters are this season, as we enter the last round of ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating meetings in Europe (they race again in Dordrecht from February 14-16), prior to the all-important ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Seoul in the middle of March.
Suzanne Schulting (NED) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (JPN) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Once again, Suzanne Schulting – arguably the standout skater, male or female, in 2018/19 – looks like she is peaking at the right time.
The supremely powerful Netherlands athlete was majestic at the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Debrecen, Hungary, where she won a grand slam of gold medals in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m – before adding Ladies’ 3000m Relay victory alongside teammates Lara van Ruijven, Rianne de Vries and Yara van Kerkhof.
Schulting retained her overall title with ease, garnering 102 points, ahead of Arianna Fontana (ITA) with 68, and admitted that her performance – even by her high standards – had been “really special”. Martina Valcepina (ITA) got overall bronze, with 34 points.
Martina Valcepina (ITA) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (USA) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Fontana misses the Dresden meeting but Valcepina should be as competitive as ever in the shorter distances.
In the Men’s field, it was a triumphant homecoming for Hungarian siblings Shaoang and Shaolin Sandor Liu. Shaoang won the overall title with 77 points thanks to his gold medal in the 1500m and silver in both the 500m and 1000m, just two points ahead of his elder brother (who got 500m and 1000m gold). Russia’s Semen Elistratov was third with 65.
Shaoang Lui and Shaolin Sandor Liu (HUN) at the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
It was a brotherly performance so commanding that the pair had to deny that they were playing “rock, paper, scissors” before each race to decide who would prevail.
Meanwhile, the year’s first major Short Track Speed Skating event, the inaugural ISU Four Continents Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Montreal, designed as a Euros-style event for the rest of the world, was dominated by Republic of Korea athletes.
Choi Min Jeong (KOR) at the ISU Four Continents Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Choi Min Jeong has had a quiet season so far but in Montreal she blew away the competition. Choi won the 500m, 1000m, 1500m and 3000m Superfinal, and then teamed up with Kim Alang, Kim Ji Yoo and Noh Ah Rum to win the Ladies’ 3000m Relay too – producing a clean sweep of five golds to surpass even Schulting’s achievements in Europe.
It represented a stunning return to form for Choi, who is one of the only skaters who can realistically depose Schulting as World Champion.
Kim Boutin (CAN) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (CHN) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
The only asterisk beside her performance? The absence from the field of Kim Boutin (CAN), who had been the best female skater in World Cup action this season so far. Boutin’s return promises a fascinating three-way battle in Dordrecht, as the Canadian tries to shake off her injury in time for the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships.
Hwang Dae Heon (KOR) at the ISU Four Continents Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
In the Men’s field in Montreal, Hwang Dae Heon (KOR) was almost – but not quite – as dominant as Choi. He won the 500m, 1000m and 1500m gold, gaining 103 points in total, and the overall title. Steven Dubois (CAN) took silver with 65, and Park Ji Won, who won the 3000m Superfinal, got bronze with 47.
Park Ji Won (KOR) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (JPN) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Seo Whi Min, meanwhile, shone at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games, taking two golds and a bronze, and is looking like an increasing threat at senior level.
All this sets the stage for a fascinating meeting in Dresden.
Will the Hungarians or Koreans top the podium in the Men’s field? And can Schulting hold off the resurgent Choi, brilliant Boutin, and emerging Seo? It’s going to be fun finding out.
It’s quality ice here too: 36,000 liters of drinking water mixed with thousands of liters of paint are used to get it just right. In 2013 China’s Wang Meng broke the 500m world record on this surface, and the venue hosted the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships in 2010, 2014 and 2018.