Only the best skaters of the season competed in the Olympic distances. The winners were Sang-Hwa Lee, Tae Bum Mo (Both KOR), Stefan Groothuis (NED), Christine Nesbitt, Denny Morrison (both CAN), Martina Sáblíkova (CZE), Sven Kramer, Bob de Jong (both NED). There were four personal bests in the men’s field and as many in the ladies’.
The first distance was the 1500m for men, and the top-6 finishers all had great races. The first surprise was Russian skater Denis Yuskov, his start was not spectacular, his first lap 27.2, but he let that follow by a 27.1 lap and a 27.8 lap, improving his personal best with almost two seconds to 1:46.81. This evenly timed racing kept him in the lead until Ivan Skobrev (RUS) raced. He gained a bit on Yuskov in the opening, as his laps were 26.8, 27.4 and 27.8; these two Russians were the only skaters this day to finish in a lap faster than 28.3. Skobrev reached 1:46.49. Stefan Groothuis (NED) started well with 23.52, had laps of 25.6 and 27.2 and was the fastest skater after 1100m, yet his legs failed him in the final lap and after 30.2 he finished in 1:46.65. Defending champion Håvard Bøkko (NOR) was paired with the overall World Cup winner Kjeld Nuis (NED). Nuis took the lead but made some small mistakes that cost him speed finishing in 8th place. Bøkko’s laps were 26.5, 26.7 and 28.5 and he just missed the time of Skobrev by 0.01 second, reaching 1:46.50. Shani Davis (USA) and Denny Morrison (CAN) went off and the Canadian had his fastest opening ever on a lowland rink. Morrison’s 23.30 was a challenging for Shani, who only just managed to cross in front of the Morrison. Morrison tried to get in stride with Shani, but realised that he had too much speed to stay behind and overtook him, both had a 25.7 lap, followed by 27.4. Morrison managed to finish well, too. 29.0 was enough to win the race in 1:46.44; Davis finished fourth in 1:46.64, 0.01 ahead of Groothuis.
Defending champion in the 3000m, Ireen Wüst (NED)said she had never entered a tournament with as strange a preparation like this one: she had her last 3k at the World Allround Championhsips and her last competition was at the World Cup in Heerenveen, because she had the flu for four days during the Berlin World Cup weekend. Struggling to get back in shape she did not know what to expect, started ok but could not maintain the speed she wanted and her lap times dropped gradually. 4:04.87 was her finishing time that even Claudia Pechstein, in her race against Stephanie Beckert (both GER) could not reach; Beckert finished with a strong 31.9 lap and overtook Wüst in the last lap, finishing 4:04.09. Pechstein finished in 4:04.99. Then Sábliková raced in the last pair, and in true form the Czech European champion who had won all races this season, won this one as well. Valkenburg (NED) was her pairmatte and started fast, but that was all she had and dropping in all laps after that, finished in 4:09.53. Sábliková took the title in 4:01.88. There were pbs for Linda de Vries (4:06.33, fifth), Olga Graf (RUS) and Natalia Czerwonka (POL).
Friday started with the Men's 1000m , then the Ladies' 1500m, followed by the Men’s 5000m.
In the 1000m, the best opening time was set at 1:09.55 by Hein Otterspeer (NED). Then Tae-Bum Mo (KOR) raced a similarly paced race; still lagging after 600m but with a better final lap he reached 1:09.09. In the next to last pair, Shani Davis and Denny Morrison were paired as they were in the 1500m. This time, defending champion Davis was the fastest, opening with 16.79, followed by laps of 25.4 and 26.5, the best final lap in the field. Davis reached 1:08.83. Morrison, with 16.91, 25.2 and 26.8 had a good race and reached 1:09.05. In the last pair, home favourites Kjeld Nuis, last years silver winner, and Stefan Groothuis, the world sprint champion and bronze medalist in 2011, challenged each other in front of a delighted crowd. Nuis went off fast, 16.48, Groothuis 16.80 but then Groothuis went away with 25.0, Nuis 25.5, and both finished with a 26.7 lap. Groothuis won in 1:08.57; Nuis took silver with 1:08.79. Davis had to accept the bronze. For Groothuis it was the final reward he had so long hoped for; the roar of the audience seemed to him, he said, “like a jet-fighter”.
In the 1500m for the Ladies, Sábliková did not race. Linda de Vries (NED) surprised again after her personal best in the 3000m. She had the fastest finishing lap in the field with 31.5, and her finishing time was 1:57.08. Most skaters did not even reach a time below 1:58, but De Vries’ pair mate, World Record holder Cindy Klassen, who raced to 1:57.30. But the two skaters who divided the winnings all this season still had to skate. Ireen Wüst, title defender, had a good race with 1:56.40. Eventually Nesbitt won in 1:56.07, gaining almost a second on Wüst in the opening 300, and built on that to even more in the first two laps but had to slow down considerably in the final lap, still having enough of an advantage over Wüst to take her first title in this 1500m. Ireen was happy regardless: “I fought for all my worth and my time was good considering the high air pressure. Nesbitt had a fabulous opening, but I was still close to the gold. I’m proud to be the number two in the world”. Nesbitt said this win was special: “I never won this distance, and never knew I could perform in it.”
The 5000m Men was the only distance that Dutch hero and World All Round Champion Sven Kramer qualified for, but he came, saw and won. First Denis Yuskov had a great even race that brought him to a pb of 6:24.74, his countryman Ivan Skobrev was only marginally faster, with 6:24.05. Then came Jonathan Kuck (USA), with an impressive race of 29 laps. He, too, reached a personal best time, 6:16.28, which eventually brought him bronze. In the next to last pair came defending champion Bob de Jong (NED), who started above the schedule of Kuck until two laps to the end. His pair mate Alexis Contin could follow closely. But in the final three laps, De Jong increased his speed to 29.3 laps, whereas the laps of Contin dropped a bit. Contin finished in 6:21.44, also faster than Skobrev, but De Jong passed Kuck in the final lap and took the lead with 6:15.26. In the final pair, Jan Blokhuijsen (NED) and Kramer were paired. The two teammates went side by side on a pace faster than Kuck’s. But in the last 1500m, Blokhuijsen’s speed dropped, his laps went down to the 30s and was left with fourth place in 6:16.82. Kramer continued with enough speed to stay below the time of De Jong, his 6:13.87 was the second best time ever in Thialf (his own track record is 6:12.97).
Nesbitt was the great favourite for the 1000m, a distance she is undefeated this season. Pair 9 featured two Chinese ladies, World Sprint Champion Jing Yu and Hong Zhang, who had gained bronze at the World Sprints. Yu reached 1:15.98, Zhang 1:16.51. These two times were far better than the best times in this event so far, 1:17.12 by Brittany Bowe (USA). Yekaterina Shikhova in pair 10 managed to stay ahead of Zhang with 0.01 second; in pair ten Heather Richardson (USA) and Wüst were again faster than Shikhova with 1:16.30 and 1:16.33 but could not touch the time of Yu. Finally, Margot Boer (NED) was pair mate of Christine Nesbitt and started faster than she had ever done, in 17.89. Nesbitt, with 18.21, later said: “I was panicking a bit in the first 200m, Margot scared me off at the start.” But soon Nesbitt composed herself: “I got more relaxed because I already won the 1500m”; a lap of 27.4 was really strong, Boer had a 28.0 lap knowing she was racing the best 1000m skater. Nesbitt continued with a 29.4 lap and won in 1:15.16, Boer was exactly a second slower, but that was still good enough for bronze behind Yu. Nesbitt: “It was not the most beautiful skate, but I was very powerful. I had to work really hard for my podium places in both the World Sprint and the World Allround championships, but these are my distances, and I was redeeming myself here.”
On the 10,000m for Men, the winner has always been Dutch and this time was no different.
But the first great racer was Jonathan Kuck, who had also won the bronze in the 5000m. With mostly mid-31 second laps, he came close to his personal best with 13:12.66, eight and a half seconds faster than Moritz Geisreiter (GER) who also impressed with a 13:21.10. The two Dutch favourites Jorrit Bergsma and Bob de Jong were not racing each other, so in the next to last pair Bergsma had to up the ante. He started with high 30 laps and brought the laps down to mid 30s, a schedule very close to the track record (just under 12:50) but he did not quite manage to keep that pace. “You want to get faster in the last 2000m, but I should have kept my quiet because I only lost time”, three 31 laps, and two 32 laps brought him to 12:57.71. De Jong saw this in the final pair. He was racing Håvard Bøkko, who had to withdraw from the 5000 due to high fever problems and only managed 13:23.70, fifth time this day. De Jong had been studying a paper with schedules during the race of Bergsma and knew he could win at least 3 seconds in the final laps. He brought some suspense to the race by starting a bit slower than Bergsma until he was over 4 seconds behind at 6800m. But then he picked up the pace and the laps went down, from 30.5 to 30.2, and a final lap of 29.9 brought him the fifth World Title 10,000m, in 10:53.90. He commented: “The public lifts you up and takes you along. It is beautiful to perform at the highest level and conclude with victory.”
In the 5000m Ladies the defending champion and World Cup winner Sábliková was the main favourite and usually her battle is with Beckert; the podium turned out exactly the same as the year before. Sábliková was the first of the favourites to race. She set the second time ever skated in Thialf, 6:50.46. Then Beckert raced with 40-year-old Claudia Pechstein, who won her first Olympic medal in 1992 in this distance. Beckert could not keep her lap times as even as Sábliková, and finished in 6:56.64, leaving Pechstein behind her; she raced to 7:04.01. good enough for the bronze medal, her twelfth medal at the 5000m in the World Distance Championships. In fourth, with the only personal best time of the day, came Olga Graf from Russia, with 7:10.22.
Sunday was the day for the 500m races. Unlike at the Olympics, here both 500m races are on the same day. After four titles in a row for Jenny Wolf (GER), this year she did not make the podium. The first race was won by Sang-Hwa Lee in 38.03, Thijsje Oenema (NED) followed with 38.16 and Heather Richardson (USA) with 38.27 managed to beat Christine Nesbitt with 0.01 for the third place in spite of a broken spring in her clap mechanism at the back stretch. Karolina Erbanová, second at the Junior World Championships this year, finished surprisingly in 5th, ahead of the new world record holder Jing Yu. After a less perfect second race she was very happy with rank 8. Wolf had a poor race and was only 10th. But in the second race, Wolf skated better, 38.24, and took the lead with 76.78 in total. But Yu also had something to make up. She skated 37.80, a great time for Thialf, and took the lead with 76.12 points. Richardson skated 38.22, winning a bit more on Nesbitt, but both dropped behind Yu in points. Then Oenema and Lee made the final pair; Lee had the best opening, 10.25, and continued strong to 37.66, only 0.06 above the track record. It brought her to the winning total of 75.69. Oenema had a race that was even slightly faster than the first race and her 38.13 gave her the bronze medal with 76.29 points.
In the 500m men, anything could happen this season. The first race saw Olympic champion Tae-Bum Mo on the podium with 34.80, followed by both Dmitry Lobkov (RUS) and Pekka Koskela (FIN) in 34.87. Title defender Kyou-Hyuk Lee was only 14th and withdrew for the second race: “I am feeling old, and my ankle needs rest.” Lee did not know then that he was going to lose his track record that stood at 34.77 to Michel Mulder (NED). Mulder skated the most impressive race of his life, a pb of 34.66 though at times he had to navigate through the turn on two legs. It brought him to 69.65 in total. His twin brother Ronald had also finished the season with a good 34.85 and a sixth place in the final classification. Kato and Lobkov both dropped behind Mulder in the second race. Mo and Koskela in the final pair skated below 35. Mo needed 34.85 to equal Mulder, and he managed to reach 34.84, second time in this race, but enough for the title with 69.64 points. Koskela finished in 34.95, his 69.82 points brought bronze.
The Dutch Ladies won the Team Pursuit with a smart and well-performed plan. The Canadian team won silver and the Polish Ladies, bronze winners at the Olympics with a slightly different team, won bronze here, not too far ahead of Russia, Germany and Korea. The winning time was a track record, 2:59.70.
The Dutch Men took the gold that they had lost the previous year, winning in 3:41.43, mainly due to, as Kramer put it, “that we could keep the laps even and finish with a 27.0”. Defending champion USA took silver in 3:43.42 and Russia got bronze with 3:43.62.