The Essent ISU World Cup series moved from Chelyabinsk to the Kazakh capital Astana. After hosting the Asian Games last year the beautiful new Alau icerink welcomed the World Cup for the first time. Track records fell at each distance. This rink has an ingenious system of air control, which enables great conditions for skaters and ice. Last week, there were 25 personal best times, this weekend even 31 including a German record, 6:19.31 by Moritz Geisreiter.
In the Ladies 500m Jing Yu (CHN) lost her lead, due to the absence of the Chinese team. World record holder Jenny Wolf (GER) still didn’t open as fast as in her best days, but her 10.32 was the fastest opening in the field, and she finished in a strong 38.04. Then Olympic Champion Sang-Hwa Lee (KOR), was paired with Thijsje Oenema (NED) and opened in 10.33. Oenema followed closely, but in the lap she saw Lee skate away from her. Lee finished in a new track record, 37.78, Oenema finished in 38.22 and took bronze, 0.01 faster than Nao Kodaira (JPN). Lee took over the lead with 230 points, Oenema follows with 210, Yu has 200.
In the Men’s 500m Tucker Fredricks (USA) opened in a fast 9.55 and skated a strong TR of 34.94. Stefan Groothuis (NED) had a slow first 100m of 9.98, but then sped up to only 25.0 in the final lap, finishing in a personal best time of 35.01. It brought him to the 500m podium for the first time in his career, but the gold went to Tae-Bum Mo (KOR). He opened in 9.57, and with a 25.3 final lap he finished in 34.89, a new track record. Mo started this season in the B-division, but now leads the World Cup with 205 points.
In the 3000m, Diane Valkenburg (NED) could keep her lap times low for much of the race and finished in 4:05.36, a new track record. But that record didn’t last long. Claudia Pechstein (GER) is back at the top and gained time on Valkenburg in the start and the finish of the race. With a fast final lap of 32.6, she reached 4:03.59. In the final pair the last two Olympic champions raced. Ireen Wüst (NED) was very fast in the first 1000 meters, but finished in a 34.6 lap, reaching 4:05.38 which meant fourth place for her. Martina Sábliková (CZE) overtook her two laps before the end, and the Czech champion continued with a 32.4 and 32.9 lap taking the gold from Pechstein: 4:03.28. Sáblikova leads with 200 points, Pechstein has 150 and Wüst 140.
In the 1500m the podium saw entirely different finishers than last week. Håvard Bøkko (NOR), the 1500m world champion, started with a careful 24.00 and a 26.6 lap, but then made up a little with each lap, clocking 27.2 and 28.1 reaching a track record of 1:45.97. Then Wouter Olde Heuvel (NED) started with 23.94, continued with laps of 26.3, 27.1 and 28.1 in a new best time, 1:45.69, for his first ever World Cup win. Denny Morrison (CAN) started in 23.46 and 25.8, but then 27.1, losing his lead in the 29.3 final lap. His 1:45.80 brought him silver. Neither Groothuis nor Shani Davis (USA) reached the podium. Groothuis had the fastest first lap (25.5) but lost it with a 29.8 last lap. Davis’ last lap of 29.0 also did not bring him higher than fourth place. Still, Groothuis leads the ranks with 145 points, Davis has 140 and Olde Heuvel 136.
Saturday started with the second 500m races. The Ladies had a close race. Jenny Wolf (GER) was the first skater to finish below 38 seconds, in 37.98, closely followed by her pairmate Nao Kodaira (JPN) who had throat problems a week earlier. Kodaira finished in 37.99 with a strong 27.4 final lap. In the final pair, Sang-Hwa Lee (KOR) came close finishing in 37.98, but was 0.001 second slower than Wolf. Lee leads with 310 points, Wolf has 290, Oenema 250.
In the Men’s 500m, Markus Puolakka (FIN) skated a very strong 35.15. Then Jan Smeekens (NED) posted 35.05. World Cup leader Tae-Bum Mo (KOR) missed that time by a fraction and finished in 35.06 in second place. Tucker Fredricks (USA) reached the podium again with 35.19, as Puolakka was disqualified for not wearing a transponder. Mo leads with 285 points, Smeekens follows with 246 and Kato has 213.
Martina Sábliková was the first skater to finish the 1500m within 1:58. Her 1:57.41 was approached by Cindy Klassen (CAN) who managed 1:57.42. Then Claudia Pechstein impressed with each lap only 0.8 second slower than the previous one; she finished in 1:56.77. In the final pair between the top skaters Ireen Wüst and Christine Nesbitt (CAN), Nesbitt left Wüst behind from the start and won the race in 1:56.10, Wüst finished in third with 1:57.00. Nesbitt leads with 180 points, Wüst has 170 and Pechstein 116.
In the 5000m, Håvard Bøkko (NOR) had an even race with laps between 29.5 and 30.1, and he finished in 6:17.88, faster than many. But the surprise came from Alexis Contin (FRA), who gained so much on Bøkko in the first 3000m of his race, that even though he lost some ground in the final three laps, he bettered the track record to 6:17.43. This brought him bronze. In the final pair last week’s winner Jorrit Bergsma and world record holder Sven Kramer (both NED) met and gained in the last five laps on Contin. Kramer won for the first time after the Olympic season, with 6:13.83. Bergsma finished in a personal best time of 6:15.40. Kramer and Bergsma both have 180 points, Contin follows with 120.
In the Ladies’ 1000m, Thijsje Oenema skated a strong race, with a sprinter’s opening of 17.94. Keeping up good speed to the end, she set the track record to 1:16.12. The four pairs after her couldn’t better that, but in the final pair Christine Nesbitt (CAN) and Margot Boer (NED) skated. They opened in 18.1, and had impressive second laps. At first Oenema was the only one below 28 seconds, with 27.9 in that lap, but Boer skated 27.8 and Nesbitt even 27.3. Nesbitt followed through by the strongest final lap in the field, 29.2 and finished in 1:14.82. Boer had to let her cross in front in the end which cost her some time. She finished in 1:16.12, seven thousands behind Nesbitt, for bronze. Nesbitt leads the World Cup ranking with 200 points, Boer has 150 and Marrit Leenstra (NED) 130.
In the Men’s field, last week’s B-division winner Tae-Bum Mo (KOR) set a good 1:09.29 after the fastest start of all, 16:33, followed by a 25.3 and a 27.5 lap. Olympic Champion Shani Davis (USA) builds his races differently and started in 17.15 and after a too slow 25.4 lap finished with 26.6 in 1:09.30, just behind Mo. But Mo would get bronze. In the final pair Groothuis and his team mate Kjeld Nuis started in 16.7, both had 25.2 and went ahead of Mo in the last lap, which was 26.9 for both. Groothuis took gold, slightly ahead of Nuis, their times were 1:08.85 and 1:08.92. Groothuis leads with 200 points, Nuis has 160 and Morrison 120.
The weekend in Astana finished with exciting mass start races, new this year on the calendar.
The woman’s victory was for multiple Dutch marathon skating champion Mariska Huisman, who, in the final lap, surprised Claudia Pechstein who had won both intermediate sprints. Pechstein finished in second position and Bo-Reum Kim (KOR) was third.
In the men’s event, over 20 laps the first winner was Olympic 10,000m Champion Seung-Hoon Lee from Korea. Where the French skaters controlled much of the race with their inline experience, the former short track skater had a great finish. Jonathan Kuck (USA) took silver and Hyung-Joon Joo (KOR) took bronze.
Next week the skaters will meet for the last time this year in Heerenveen, the Netherlands.