The Essent ISU World Cup series was back on Dutch ground in Heerenveen. Most top skaters competed, except the Koreans, Sven Kramer (NED) and Christine Nesbitt (CAN). There were in total 8 personal best times, including two national records for Belgium by Bart Swings, 1:47.61 in the 1500m and 13:21.44 in the 10,000m.
In the Ladies' 500m, Heather Richardson (USA) finished in 38.51, staying just ahead of other podium candidates like Beixing Wang (CHN), Nao Kodaira (JPN) and Jenny Wolf (GER). Dutch Margot Boer with a great final lap finished in 38.30 and took over the lead, until Jing Yu (CHN) skated and won in 38.03. Sang-Hwa Lee (KOR) is still in the lead with 650 points, Yu follows with 580 and Jenny Wolf, fourth today, has 574.
In the 500m for Men, Dutchman Hein Otterspeer started in the first pair and showed a strong race with full speed through last inner lane and managed in 35.14. This kept him in the lead until the 7th pair, where Dmitry Lobkov (RUS) skated a powerful race finishing in 35.11. None of the six higher ranked skaters could beat that time. Keiichiro Nagashima (JPN) took third place with 35.20.
Mo (KOR) lost the lead in the World Cup with 477 points, Tucker Fredricks (USA) passed him and now has 494, Smeekens (NED) is third with 451.
In the 5000m Ladies, Olympic silver medalist Stephanie Beckert (GER) raced very well with a series of 32 laps; her 6:53.36 was the fourth best time ever skated in Thialf. This gave Martina Sábliková (CZE) a tough task, but she was up to it. She mirrowed Beckert's schedule but managed to stay just a bit under it and being faster at the end, winning the race in 6:52.50. Her pair mate Claudia Pechstein (GER) who reached her 40th birthday this week, followed until 2000m, but then had to let go and just decided to secure the bronze medal with 7:05.37.
Sábliková won all long distance races this season and leads with 500 points. Pechstein follows with 300 and Beckert follows with 290.
In the 1500m, Bart Swings (BEL) took the lead, clocking a Belgian record time of 1:47.61 and kept it until Brian Hansen (USA) raced in the 7th pair and reached 1:47.23. In pair eight, Stefan Groothuis (NED) was paired with Kjeld Nuis (NED), Groothuis was the only one to open as fast as 25.6, but the last lap was pay-back time and he was overtaken by Nuis, who took the race in 1:46.98. Groothuis finished a bit behind Hansen. Morrison (CAN) and Skobrev (RUS) stayed behind Groothuis but in the final pair Shani Davis (USA), who skated on the schedule of Nuis, managed to beat the Dutchman with a good last lap and won in 1:46.89. Håvard Bøkko (NOR) finished in 1:47.21 and took third place. Davis now established a good lead with 380 points, then follows Bøkko with 322, Nuis has 310.
Saturday started with the second 500m races. This time, Jenny Wolf was strongest, this time in 37.93. After her fourth place yesterday she had not thought she could ever beat Yu but today changed her perspective. Jing Yu was second in 38.01, and Heather Richardson was third in 38.28. Wolf now moved to the lead in the rankings with 674 points, Yu is second with 660, Sang-Hwa Lee dropped to third with 650 points. All three skaters still have a chance to win the World Cup 500m next week in Berlin.
In the Men's 500m, Tucker Fredricks (USA) set a time of 35.05 that proved too hard to beat. Joji Kato(JAP) came close with 35.16, but then Michel Mulder (NED) skated towards a strong 35.12 and his first ever podium finish. For Fredricks the win was unexpected; he had to withdraw from the World Sprint Championships in January because of a back injury that is not fully healed. I had to look at my time four times to really believe it, he said. Fredricks took the lead with 594 points, Kato is second with 495 and Mo has 477 points.
In the 1500m, Christine Nesbitt's absence cost her the lead in the rankings. Ireen Wüst (NED) finished in 1:56.01. She beat her pair mate Marrit Leenstra (NED) with a margin of more than a second, but Leenstra's 1:57.35 was good enough for second place. Diane Valkenburg came in third, having had a good duel with Yekaterina Shikhova (RUS). Valkenburg finished in 1:58.05, Shikhova in 1:58.10 just off the podium. Dutch 2008 World Allround champion Paulien van Deutekom finished in 16th place and announced that this was the last day of her skating career.
Nesbitt lost her lead to Wüst who now has 450 points, Nesbitt has 360 and Leenstra is third in the rankings with 281 points.
In the first pair of the Men's 10,000m, Bart Swings skated again a Belgian record, 13:21.44. He lost his pair to Dutchman Douwe de Vries, but was fifth in the field. Håvard Bøkko was faster than De Vries, he finished in 13:11.95 which was enough for the podium. It was an even race with mid 31 laps, but after him the two Dutchmen Bob de Jong and Jorrit Bergsma were paired. Bob de Jong took the lead, with laps of no more than 31.0 until 6800m. Bergsma was slow to start but kept his lap times under 31, nibbling at the distance between him and De Jong. After 8000m, when both skaters' laps went up to around 31.2, Bergsma managed to bring his times back to 30.8 laps and overtook De Jong. To the excitement of the full stands, Bob then finished with two fast laps of 30.2 and 29.8, and even though the final lap of Bergsma was also his fastest, 30.4, De Jong won, in 12:58.47; Bergsma lost with 12:59.34.
In the B-division a team-mate of De Jong and Bergsma, Bob de Vries, skated a race with a long row of times below 31, a second below the schedule of De Jong, and then with a few slower laps a second above that schedule. De Vries finished in 13:01.19, securing himself a place in the World Championships at the cost of Douwe de Vries and a time that in the A-division would have been good for the podium. Bob de Jong leads the World Cup with 390 points. Bergsma has 360 points and Sven Kramer, who did not race in Heerenveen, is third with 290.
In the 1000m Ladies the highest ranked skaters were four Dutch, an American and a Russian. Margot Boer reached 1:16.55, but missed the podium with 0.01 as Marrit Leenstra reached 1:16.54. The best race was of Heather Richardson against Ireen Wüst, where Richardson was the fast opener, and also had the fastest full lap in the field. Wüst had the fastest last lap, but had to settle for second with 1:16.48, as Richardson took the win in 1:15.83. For the classification this meant that Nesbitt, who didn't participate, kept the lead with 400 points, Leenstra is second with 375 and Richardson third with 339.
The Men's 1000m races started with two of Holland's top skaters in the 500m of this week, Michel Mulder won that race in 1:09.43 and saw how one skater after the other couldn't get below 1:10, and to his astonishment was still in the lead with two pairs to go. Kjeld Nuis (NED) raced with Denny Morrison (CAN) who also could not beat 1:10.36, but Nuis set a new best mark with 1:09.05. Then came Stefan Groothuis with Shani Davis. The two skated pretty much side by side on the schedule of Nuis, but won a little in the last lap, Davis more than Groothuis. Groothuis posted 1:09.00 and Davis won his 50th World Cup victory (only Wotherspoon has more) with 1:08.88. On his fiftieth victory, Davis commented: Four years ago I could win even if I did not skate fast, but the level of the competition is higher and I have to fine-tune and find balance between strength and finesse. I just love skating fast; I did not want to be a champion as a child, but to be a fast skater.
Groothuis is leading the classification with 490 points, Davis follows with 450, which makes it close for the final with extra points to be won, and Nuis is third with 366.
In the Mass Start race, Claudia Pechstein won both intermediate sprints which gave her 10 extra points. Mariska Huisman won the race and Foske Tamar van der Wal (both Dutch) was second; however the intermdiate sprints brought Pechstein to second place ahead of Van der Wal. Huisman also won the first race and leads with 200 points; Pechstein is second with 160 and Maria Lamb (USA) has 110.
The men's Mass Start was exciting. A total of 26 top skaters participated. Shane Dobbin (NZL) was leading with five laps to go, followed by three Dutchmen and Alexis Contin (FRA); also Ivan Skobrev (RUS) came to the front, but it was Jonathan Kuck from USA who went off aggressively in the pre-last lap and nobody could overtake him. Kuck won ahead of Arjan Stroetinga (NED) and Alexis Contin. Kuck leads now with 180 points, Contin has 130 points and Seung-Hoon Lee (KOR) is third with 100 points.
The skaters will skate the World Cup Final in Berlin coming weekend and then return to Heerenveen for the World Single Distance Championships.