Jing Yu (CHN) and Stefan Groothuis (NED) were crowned the ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Champions of 2012, both in world record points. Defending champions Christine Nesbitt (CAN) and Kyou-Hyuk Lee (KOR) had to settle for silver. The 41st World Sprint Championships took place on the fast ice of the Calgary Olympic Oval in Canada. For both skaters it was their first title. Yu was the 11th skater to win the ladies' title in 11 years. Groothuis was the first Dutch sprint champion since Wennemars in 2005.
It was a weekend of good skating, most noteworthy was the astonishing 1000m world record that Christine Nesbitt skated on Saturday: 1:12.68. On Sunday Jing Yu became the first woman below 37, with a world record on the 500m: 36.94. Besides, there were national records for Australia: Greig 34.99; China: Zhang 1:13.97, Yu 1:13.47; Czechia: Erbanova 38.17, 38.11 and 1:15.41; France: Macé 36.04 and 1:08.41; Kazakhstan: Aydova 38.27, 38.15 and 1:15.80; Kuzin 1:08.55; Latvia: Silovs 35.56 and 35.55; Netherlands: Groothuis 1:06.96. In total there were 17 national records and of 68 personal bests in the distances. Many national record points sprint combinations were also improved.
In the Ladies' field, 27 skaters started from 12 countries. Besides Nesbitt, also Sang-Hwa Lee (KOR), Beixing Wang (CHN) and Jenny Wolf (GER) had won the title once. It was Wolf's 13th participation in the World Sprint Championships but this season she had not been constant. Very strong in the 500m this year, and also on the 1000m podium once, was Jing Yu and Heather Richardson (USA), both at the 500m and the 1000m, could be counted among the favorites. Annette Gerritsen (NED) had silver last year but hadn't been in great shape this year. Margot Boer (NED) had bronze last year.
In the opening 500m, Hong Zhang (CHN) skated a personal best (pb) of 37.63 and showed she was to be reckoned with. Gerritsen skated close to her best time ever and managed 37.67. Wang beat those times with 37.50, but then Wolf skated her best race so far this season. She beat Yu, who with 37.72 landed outside the podium. World record holder Wolf delivered 37.35 and won the distance in a championship record. Olympic champion Lee skated a disappointing 37.70 and Nesbitt who was paired with her was far from happy with her 37.93 with a mistake in the first turn. Richardson, with 38.07, disappointed. Boer skated 37.71 and could be expected to climb a bit in the 1000m.
Then it was time for the 1000m. Jenny Wolf skated a pb of 1:14.95 and took the lead with 74.825 points. Also Jing Yu skated a pb, 1:14.43, but did not overtake Wolf in points. The pb of Zhang of 1.14.44 kept her also just behind Wolf. Leenstra set a great 1:14.16 and took over the lead in that distance but her 500 wasn't fast enough to lead in the ranking. Then Nesbitt skated a perfect race, resulting in a phenomenal world record. The opening was 17.81, followed by the fastest flying lap ever, 26.67, and a 28.20 final lap. 1:12.68 was so much faster than Cindy Klassen's long standing record of 1:13.11 that had seemed impossible ever to be beaten. Wolf stood and applauded at the side, even though she lost her lead, taken over by Nesbitt with 74.270 points. Silver in that distance was for Leenstra; Boer skated after the WR pair in 1:14.37, also a pb and a distance medal.
Nesbitt commented: I didn't know if I could go this fast. After I saw my 500m time, I was pretty angry. I thought I had been faster. I race well when I'm angry, so I guess I brought that anger into this race. I lead, but I cannot do anything stupid in the 500m tomorrow.
But the 500m seemed to throw everything upside down again. Wang skated 37.32, silver on the distance and 112.695 points. Lee finally had a good race with 37.36 and took bronze in that distance. The winner came from the pair of Yu and Wolf. Yu opened powerful in 10.27 but Wolf lost her balance and speed on the first straight and finished only in 38.04, losing her world record since Yu had two great turns close to the blocks, gaining a lot of speed, and became the first lady to ever finish within 37 seconds: The new world record is 36.94. Nesbitt lost a second on the 500m and Yu took over the lead with 111.875 points from Nesbitt with 112.160.
In the final 1000m they were paired together to divide the top podium places amongst each other. Hong Zhang had taken the overall bronze, her 1:13.97 was a Chinese record and was just what it took to keep Margot Boer in fourth place. Yu attacked, opened 0.4 faster than Nesbitt and keeping in front even after 600m Yu, only slowing down a bit in her last lap. Although Nesbitt won the race in 1:12.94, Yu kept fighting to keep close to Nesbitt and her 1:13.47, a Chinese record, was just fast enough to win the title. Leenstra took the bronze in a pb of 1:13.89. Only 0.02 in the ranking behind the gold, Nesbitt had to settle with silver. I knew she was a great competitor and she could beat me, but Yu skated really well today. My 500s were good but not phenomenal, I was hoping she could not go so fast in the 1000, but maybe she could as she was racing me. I don't think I was the number one favorite, because I skated really well and did not win. said Nesbitt.
34 skaters participated without Tucker Fredricks and Pekka Koskela who had to withdraw due to illness. Kyou-Hyuk Lee, four times champion in the past five editions, had a poor season so far but it was his 13th participation in the World Sprint Championships, he is experienced like no other, and knows how to rise to the occasion. Shani Davis (USA) won that one time that Lee fell, and is still strong in the 1000m but often has to bow to Stefan Groothuis, the Dutch champion. Korean Tae-Bum Mo is good at both distances, Olympic Champion in the 500m and Olympic silver medalist in the 1000m. Last week, Dmitry Lobkov (RUS) became a favorite by winning the 500m and improving himself in the 1000m.
In the first 500m Lee surprised with a championship record time of 34.33. His race was like an explosion where great technique and fast movement ignited simultaneously. A lot of other skaters made small mistakes. Favorite Groothuis finished 9th with 34.84. He thought it was a decent race, although the gap with Lee was larger than he thought. Lobkov (RUS) was second with 34.46, his best time of the season. Muncef Ouardi (CAN) was a great surprise; he skated an impressive personal best time of 34.54, on an old pair of skates as his present skates got lost on the way from Salt Lake City. Of the strong 1000m skaters, Davis was 16th and Morrison 20th in this 500m.
In the 1000m, Kang-Seok Lee withdrew, suffering from injuries that had kept him from a good 500m, his strongest distance. His countryman Kyou-Hyuk Lee had a good race, especially in the first half and with 1:08.01 he reached a total of 68.335 points. It brought him the lead after the first day, as there were only three who skated a faster 1000m, but had lost on him on the 500m. Mo skated a pb of 1:07.98 and reached 68.660 points; and Davis won the battle with Groothuis in 1:07.25, a championships record. Groothuis skated 1:07.50, only 0.05 above his pb and with many mistakes. So he knew he could be faster the second day. Groothuis had 68.590 points, Davis 68.785. Between Lee and Groothuis stood Lobkov, who also skated close to his pb, with 1:08.09. Lobkov had 68.505 points. Mika Poutala (FIN) was fifth after day one, after a fifth and seventh place.
The second day, Joji Kato (JPN) won with 34.35, Poutala was second with 34.38 and Mo had a personal best with 34.42 and also reached the podium and climbed to the second place overall. Lee and Lobkov in the last pair had a false start, which cost some energy; they were 0.3 slower than the first day. Lee looked tired, and so the ranking was very tight after three races: Lee 103.005 points, Mo 103.085, Poutala 103.100, Lobkov 103.220 and Groothuis 103.330. Davis was 10th.
The conclusive 1000m was a thriller. First, Sjoerd de Vries (NED), after some misfortune the first day, skated a pb of 1:07.72 to climb up to the top-16 to secure four start places for the Netherlands for 2013. It brought him to the podium of this 1000m. Groothuis was the first of the favorites to race and did so with determination. He had the first faultless race of his weekend. 16.50 in the opening 200m, he then had a 24.6 lap and a 25.8 final lap made him the Dutch record holder with 1:06.96, also a championships record. In the next pair Davis could not match that and came in with 1:07.11, silver on the 1000m. Lobkov could not find enough strength for the last lap (27.2) and dropped behind Davis in the rankings. Poutala made 1:08.34 and gathered 137.270 points, which was good for fourth. Mo and Lee in the final pair needed 1:07.44 and 1:07.60 to win and gave it all. They opened around 16.30, but then Mo lost his balance and therefore valuable time and energy in the second turn, which was 25.2; but Lee had a 24.6 lap like Groothuis and it all came down to the final lap of the weekend. It was too much for Lee and Mo. They both reached the finish after 1:07.99 and had to settle for silver and bronze overall. Groothuis has the world record total of 136.810 points. He celebrated his title by repeatedly pronouncing the word Finally! It was great to beat a super strong skater like Lee. I have been good before, but always something went wrong or I got ill. I am so happy, now I finally won!
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