Martina Sáblíková (CZE) and Sven Kramer (NED) were crowned the European Speed Skating Champions of 2012. It was Sáblíková's fourth and Kramer's fifth European title. Both won in the three longest distances.
The European Speed Skating Championships were held at the ice rink of the Hungarian capital Budapest. Between impressive museums and the city park with its old castle, it is part of a large pond that was turned into an artificial ice rink, where in 2001 the World Allround Championships took place. This year, with much wind but no rain and temperatures around five degrees Celsius, skaters from seventeen different countries gathered to compete for the European titles. Title defenders were Martina Sáblíková and Ivan Skobrev (RUS) who withdrew from the competition in Budapest.
For the women, it was a three-day event but the men started on Saturday for the usual two-day competition.
The ladies' competition had 2007, 2010 and 2011 champion Martina Sábliková as an absolute favorite. Other candidates for the podium were world champion Ireen Wüst (NED) and the thirtynine year old Claudia Pechstein (GER).
Junior Karolina Erbanová (CZE) won the 500m, as she did in the past two years. She was the only one who went below 40 seconds; she lowered the track record from 39.99 (Anni Friesinger in 2001) to 39.87. Ireen Wüst finished in 40.21 and went second. Julia Skokova (RUS) took third place with 40.40. Behind Yekaterina Lobysheva (RUS), Claudia Pechstein finished fifth in 40.67. Martina Sáblíková made a mistake in the 500m and thus finished in 14th place, with 41.79. It was Wüst taking the most advantage, since she needed to distance herself as much as possible, as she was expected to lose ground on the longest distance.
The 3000 meters were difficult on the windy track and it led to a surprise. Natalia Czerwonka (POL), who had been 8th on the 500m, skated all along below the track record that Renate Groenewold had set here in 2001 (with 4:16.57), but then struggled in the last two laps and only reached 4:19.41. Pechstein was a bit more careful, but could not quite reach Czerwonka's time and finished in 4:19.71, but taking over the lead in the classification with 83.955 points. Wüst, who started very fast, couldn't manage to better their times and finished in 4:22.59. The wind was fiercest in the final pairing where Martina Sáblíková was the only one who could skated an even race; starting with carefully, each lap between 33 and 34 seconds, and 34.5 for the last lap, it was her who bettered the track record and 4:16.09 brought her back into the competition. With 84.471 points she was now fourth, Pechstein still lead, Wüst followed with 83.975 points, and the surprising Czerwonka was third with 84.455.
After two distance victories for both Czech women, a win all four was still possible for them, but that would be hardest to do at the 1500m; still Sábliková succeeded in attaining the third distance win for the Czech Republic, her time 2:03.64, but not a track record. Maybe I was a bit lucky today with less wind, she said, but nothing is decided, tomorrow everything can be different. In this distance, Julia Skokova finished third with 2:05.18 and Linda de Vries (NED) was second with 2:04.70. Wüst was disappointment with the sixth place at 2:06.36, and Claudia Pechstein, paired with her, was tenth with 2:08.72 and therfore lost her lead in the rankings. Sábliková took over the lead with 125.684. The world record holder in the 5000m was not expected to give it away any more. Wüst was still second with 126.095 points, Julia Skokova had climbed up to third, Pechstein had 126.861 points and fourth, but was expected to climb up with a good 5000m. Czerwonka had dropped to seventh position; a position she would keep to the final classification. In the last distance all four Dutch women had qualified, as well as two Germans, two Russians, two Polish, a Norwegian and a very strong Czech.
In the final 5000m, Linda de Vries raced against Skokova and passed her in the rankings. De Vries reached 7:45.27 and Skokova 8:02.16. Diane Valkenburg then raced with Ireen Wüst. Wüst managed to start not too fast and kept a decent speed to the end, taking the lead with 7:43.59 and 172.454, Valkenburg dropped just behind De Vries to fifth in the ranking. The main question then remained if Claudia Pechstein could make up the difference to Wüst. Sábliková left Pechstein behind her, chasing the track record that the German set in 2001. And although Sábliková was below that time until 4600m, her last lap was just a bit too slow. It did not really matter, as her 7:22.38 was the winning time of the day and gave her the title with 169.922 points. Claudia Pechstein finished second. Her 7:34.51 was just enough to pass Wüst and get the overall silver with 172.312 points. Wüst was content with bronze. I had a strong tournament. I am clearly not as good in outdoor circumstances, in Moscow that will be different, such a big gap will not be possible in a hall. Sábliková agreed. I will not be a favourite at the World Allround Championships, because indoors Wüst is far more dangerous. But outdoor championships have been good for me.
In the men's championship, Sven Kramer was back after a year of absence, but the anticipated excitement of competing against the 2011 champion Ivan Skobrev was gone, as Skobrev had to cancel his trip to Hungary. So the main competition was expected to come from the other Dutch skaters, mainly Koen Verweij and Jan Blokhuijsen, and from Håvard Bøkko (NOR) and Alexis Contin (FRA).
At the 500 Meters, three skaters managed a time below 37 seconds. Zbigniew Brodka (POL) was the first to bring the track record below 37, as he skated 36.90 while paired with Jan Blokhuijsen, who managed 36.93. Konrad Niedzwiedzki won the 500m for the fourth time with the smallest margin, in 36.89, reaching the podium for seven European Championships in a row. At this distance, the first personal best time of the weekend was skated by Belgian Ferre Spruyt, who had never been faster than today's 39.46. Håvard Bøkko was fifth, behind Finnish junior Tommi Pulli. Bøkko gained a good advantage with 37.25 on Kramer (NED), who came in with 37.77. The only Latvian participant, Haralds Silovs, with 37.46 finished sixth in this distance.
In the 5000m, Silovs surprised again with a sixth place finish. His 6:41.39, a track record, brought him a point total of 77.599. Of the favorites, Bøkko and Contin were the first to skate. The two skaters both have the same coach, but in this race, Bøkko couldn't manage to keep his lap times under 32 seconds. He had to accept that Contin passed him after 2000m, Bøkko finished in 6:40.60, Contin in 6:38.08, good for third place for this distance. Bøkko stayed ahead of Silovs, with 77.310 points, but left much room for Kramer to gain. Contin, with 77.608 points stayed just behind Silovs, but as Silovs never skated a 10,000m race in his life, Contin was expected to make up the difference in the final distance. Then Sven Kramer and Koen Verweij raced and Kramer skated away from Verweij. All his lap times were below 32 seconds, and he was the only one to start with a 29.9 lap, taking the track record in 6:31.82, immediately making up for all the ground he lost on the 500m. With 76.952 points he was second after the first day as Blokhuijsen managed to skate the second best time in this distance, with 6:36.49 and gathered 76.579 points leading the ranking after the first day with just a small advantage. Bøkko was third, Silovs and Contin followed, Verweij was seventh.
On Sunday, the men started with the 1500m. A fierce wind made it hard for the skaters. Only one skater managed to beat the track record of Ids Postma. Sven Kramer won in 1:53.98; his pair mate Jan Blokhuijsen finished a second slower, in 1:54.93, just behind Norwegian junior Sverre Lunde Pedersen who was second in 1:54.87. Blokhuijsen thus lead the classification, with 114.889 points, Kramer had 114.945 and then there was a considerable gap. Bøkko had problems with the soft ice and only managed ninth place, 1:56.35; Silovs passed him to rise to third in the ranking after being sixth again in the 1500m with 1:55.48, just behind Verweij, who climbed up to fifth overall. The qualifiers for the final distance were four Dutch, two Norwegians, two Polish, a Latvian, a French, a Russian and a Belgian.
At the 10,000m, the first pair were two Polish skaters. Zbigniew Brodka clocked a new personal best time of 14:44.55; which brought him to a career-high twelfth place, two more Polish skaters finished eleventh and thirteenth, and the three of them qualified to go to the World Championships, as well as two ladies, an excellent result for the Polish team. Contin set a strong time of 14:05.84, but the Frenchman just missed the podium, fourth for the distance and fifth in the ranking. Verweij had a similar race with 14:05.98 and stayed ahead of Contin in the ranking. He had a chance to move up to the podium, as both Håvard Bøkko and Haralds Silovs needed to skate not more than five seconds slower in order to stay ahead in the ranking. Silovs skated the first 10,000m in his life and was hurting at the end. He lost his third position in the ranking as Bøkko skated his strongest race in this tournament. Bøkko finished in 14:02.83, ahead of Verweij and certainly faster than Silovs. Silovs' 14:23.38 was a new Latvian record and his point total of 159.261 was also a national record. He dropped behind Bøkko, Verweij and Contin to sixth in the final classification. Then the final pair, Kramer and Blokhuijsen battled for gold. They went side by side in the first half of the race, but in the second, Kramer could keep up within the track record pace, and Blokhuijsen had to settle for silver. But Kramer's last lap was a bit slow and because of that Bart Veldkamp, now his coach, kept the track record. Kramer won in 13:45.05 and took his fifth European title with 156.197 points. Blokhuijsen is Europe's second best skater with 156.513 points as he finished within 14 minutes, 13:52.48. Bøkko brought the bronze to Norway but with 158.234 points at a modest distance. Kramer was visibly happy to win the title again after a year of absence. He thanked his sports medical doctor Peter Vergouwen for getting him back to top level.