After a break of more than a month, the Essent ISU World Cup series continued this weekend with a competition at the Olympic Oval of Salt Lake City for only the sprint distances. With the World Sprint Championships taking place next week in Calgary on equally high and fast ice, this was the opportunity for the sprinters to get used to the speed at altitude and try and to break records. There were 90 personal bests in total.
Two JWRs were improved: Laurent Dubreuil (CAN) 34.66, and Miho Takagi (JPN) 1:15.40.
There are now also 12 new national records, in alphabetical order:
Ladies: JPN 37.42 Miho Kodaira; KAZ 38.62 and 1:15.92 Yekaterina Ajdova.
Men: AUS Daniel Greig 35.24 and 1:08.85; AUT Bram Smallenbroek 1:10.78; FRA 1:08.76 Benjamin Macé; KAZ Roman Krech 34.83 and 1:08.64; LAT Haralds Silovs 1:07.78; NED 34.40 Jan Smeekens; POL Artur Was 34.60.
In the 500m for Ladies, two favourites for the world title were paired together, Heather Richardson (USA) and Christine Nesbitt (CAN). The race was close; Richardson equaled her national record time of 37.58, Nesbitt set a personal best time of 37.59. Some of the favourites would beat those times, but Jing Yu (CHN), who won all her 500m races this season, was disqualified and world record holder Jenny Wolf (GER) did not come close to her best form. Nao Kodaira from Japan however, improved her NR to 37.42 and Olympic Champion Sang-Hwa Lee (KOR) delivered a time just below that, 37.36, enough to win and increase her lead in the World Cup ranking. Kodaira was second and Richardson completed the podium.
In the Men's 500m, Keiichiro Nagashima (JPN) proved that he can still win. In the first part of the season, he never made the podium, but here he skated a personal best of 34.37 in a good pair with Jamie Gregg (CAN), who finally finished in fourth with 34.47. A personal best of 34.49 was not enough for Pekka Koskela (FIN) to take another podium place. In the next to last pair, Tucker Fredricks (USA) was paired with Jan Smeekens (NED), both specialists at the 500m. Smeekens won in a good race and his 34.40 was a new Dutch record. Fredricks reached 34.45, good for the last place on the podium. Neither Tae-Bum Mo (KOR) nor Joji Kato (JPN), leaders in the World Cup, could impress but Mo kept the lead, finishing 6th in this race.
In the 1000m ladies, the only two skaters that managed the first 600m below 45 seconds, were racing together in the 7th out of 10 pairs. Lee had a lap of 26.8 and passed after 44.73, Richardson 27.2 and 44.93, but the final lap was too much for Lee, who wrestled towards 1:15.37, Richardson had a good finish with a 29.0 lap and came in with 1:13.99, a new personal best. Thus she took over the lead from Hong Zhang (CHN), whose 1:14.53 also had been a huge improvement of her own best time. In the next pair, Ireen Wüst (NED) did not approach the time of Richardson, but her 1:14.51 brought her to bronze; in the final pair Nesbitt raced to the victory. After 600m she passed in 45.06, and a final fast 28.3 lap brought her to 1:13.36, a time equal to the existing track record. Her pair mate Marrit Leenstra (NED) was on a good pace but had to slow down at the cross-over to give way to Nesbitt. In the B-division Miho Takagi improved the junior world record (was Leenstra's) with 0.01 to 1:15.40.
The B-division 1000m victory was for Haralds Silovs in a Latvian record of 1:07.87. Only four skaters in the A-division were faster. World record holder Shani Davis (USA) was paired with Denny Morrison (CAN) and together they raced to the gold and silver time. Davis won in 1:07.20, his first World Cup victory this season and Morrison did well with 1:07.39. Also Sjoerd de Vries (NED) was faster than Silovs with 1:07.74. In the final pair with the two top-ranked skaters, Kjeld Nuis (NED) was disqualified for sailing out of the second inner turn too early and his countryman Stefan Groothuis skated a personal best time, 1:07.45, which brought him to the podium but was not enough to take the win.
The first day 63 new personal best times were set, but the next day times were a bit slower and only 27 pbs were set. Former World Sprint champions Kyou-Hyuk Lee (KOR) and Christine Nesbitt did not start any more.
In the 500m Ladies, Jing Yu had to start in the first pair, skated well and improved her personal best time to 37.51. Jenny Wolf finished in 37.62 and it took until the last pair, when the two best skaters of the first day raced, for these times to be bettered. Not by Kodaira, who finished in sixth place, but by Sang-Hwa Lee. Her 37.27 was only 0.03 slower than her Korean record time. So both Yu and Wolf were back on the podium they so frequently occupy. In the World Cup Rankings, Lee leads with 650 points, followed by Wolf with 514 and Yu with 480.
In the Men's 500m, A great Junior World Record was skated by Canadian junior Laurent Dubreuil. By winning the B-division the first day, he was allowed to start in the A-division next and finished in 34.66, thus erasing the old JWR time of Joji Kato. Kato raced in the next pair, but lost to Dmitry Lobkov (RUS), who set a strong 34.54. This time stood until the end. Dubreuil just missed the podium, as Nagashima with 34.57 and Fredricks with 34.60 again found their way up there. Lobkov was the 7th 500m winner in 8 races, but Fredricks is the most constant skater, leading the rankings with 488 points, Mo lost his lead and has 477 points, Smeekens is third with 435.
Christine Nesbitt who won all four previous 1000m races, decided not to start to be fresh for next week's World Championships. Laurine van Riessen (NED) impressed with a personal best time of 1:14.21 and was the first below 1:15. Monique Angermüller (GER) managed that as well, 1:14.83. Leenstra, who improved her personal best the first day in spite of cross-over problems, again improved herself and skated the second time of the day with 1:14.41. These three made the podium, Annette Gerritsen (NED) with 1:15.06 was fourth and Wüst and Richardson raced together to 1:15.48.
Nesbitt still leads after this weekend with 400 points. She is followed by Leenstra with 305, then it gets close: Van Riessen has 244, Richardson 239, Wüst 234 and Boer 230 points.
In the men's 1000m, Lobkov also skated a strong race and finished in 1:08.24. Pekka Koskela then took over the lead with 1:08.17. Then Groothuis was the first below 1:08, he reached 1:07.94, with the best two skaters of the first day to go. Davis and Morrison were slower than Groothuis after 600m. However, Davis had the strongest last lap and crossed the line after 1:07.69, the winning time. Morrison had problems in the final lap and finished in 1:08.20, just behind the podium.
Now with two wins, Davis moved up to second in the ranking with 350, where the order in the ranking before the weekend was a Dutch triple with Groothuis, Nuis and De Vries. Groothuis still leads with 410 but Denny Morrison also moved up with 305 points ahead of Nuis and De Vries.
The skaters will travel to Calgary (CAN) for the World Sprint Championships taking place coming weekend; the World Cup continues for the allrounders in Hamar, 11-12 February.