They did feel but were not bothered by an earthquake on Friday. Noteable were the absence of the female sprint World Champion Jing Yu and the world's third fastest lady Hong Zhang from China. Seven Personal Best times were bettered. The ladies improved the track record in each race and the track record for the 500m Men was equalled.
In the Ladies' 500m, Jenny Wolf (GER) was fourth and lost her track record, that stood at 37.71, as it was improved by Sang-Hwa Lee (KOR), the Olympic champion who won the two World Cup 500m races in Heerenveen as well. She needed 37.63 for this sprint, with 10.34 for the opening. Her pair mate was Heather Richardson (USA), second twice in Heerenveen, but this time she took bronze in 38.01, as the Japanese champion Nao Kodaira took second place with 37.96 in front of her home crowd.
In the Men's 500m, Michel Mulder (NED), the runner-up at the World Championships, skated a time below 35 seconds, 34.95, which got him silver. Only one skater was faster, and that was a bit of a surprise; Pekka Koskela (FIN) had won the first 500m in Heerenveen but a groin muscle tear had forced him to drop out from all other races. He had somewhat recovered from that, started here and exceeded all expectations. He opened in 9.67, followed with a lap below 25 to finish in 34.64, thus equalling the track record of Joji Kato (JPN). This home favourite raced in the next pair, but did not reach the podium. The third place went to Tucker Fredricks (USA), with 35.10. With his surprising win, Koskela is back at the top of the World Cup ranking, with 200 points. Kato has 195. Koskela: The muscle tear was not as bad as it initially seemed. I took it easy for two weeks. Last week I decided to travel to Japan and only yesterday I made the decision to start at the race. So I am a bit surprised.
There were only seven ladies below 1:17 in the 1000m. The first of them was Olga Fatkulina (RUS) with 1:16.24. In the seventh pair, Christine Nesbitt (CAN) was much faster. The Olympic- and three times in a row World Champion in this distance opened with 18.32, followed by a 27.6 and a 29.4 lap, finishing in 1:15.45, only 0.08 above the track record of Anni Friesinger. The next two pairs saw three more 1:16 times but none faster than Fatkulina. But Heather Richardson, who had won the 1000m in Heerenveen, skated in the final pair with Lotte van Beek (NED). Richardson opened with a fast 17.63, much faster than Van Beek and Nesbitt (both 18.32), and continued with a 27.6 lap like Nesbitt, and finished with a 29.9, setting a new track record with 1:15.24. Young Lotte van Beek seemed to be 'far behind', but her 1:16.15 brought her to the podium as well. Richardson: My opener was the main part of the win. I am really excited my season has started this well and that I could race my own race and beat Nesbitt again. Nesbitt: I was happy with my 1000m race today. It wasn't pretty, but it gave me some confidence. Although Nesbitt is used to winning the distance, she was only tenth in Heerenveen. Lotte van Beek, on her 21st birthday: "Richardson and Nesbitt are a step better than me, and for now I am happy with my time and place, but I will do everything to make that extra step up."
In the Men's 1000m, Olympic champion Shani Davis (USA) still could not start at full speed. His laps were good, especially the last lap of 26.8, but then he was disqualified for going wide through the blocks on leaving a turn. Otherwise he would have been fourth with 1:09.92, which was a full second above his track record. The disqualification did not cost him the win as Kyou-Hyuk Lee (KOR) and Samuel Schwarz (GER), in pair seven, were faster. Former World Sprint Champion Lee opened in 16.56, the fastest opener of the field, Schwarz clocked 16.72, and both followed up with a 25.5 lap. Nobody else could finish with a below-27, but in the final lap Schwarz' 27.4 brought him past Lee who finished with a 27.7; Lee posted 1:09.85 and Schwarz took the lead with 1:09.69. To his surprise, none of the three Dutchmen that followed in pair 8 and 9 could better that; but in the final pair Koskela struck again. With laps of 25.3 and 27.2 he reached the finish in 1:09.52. Thus Koskela is the first after Jeremy Wotherspoon on Nov. 11 2007 to win both distances in one World Cup day. There was a surprise later that day in the B-division, as Michel Mulder won there in 1:09.63, once again the second best time of the day, as in the 500m. I thought I had to win B so I can start in group A tomorrow. Super. Schwarz was happy and surprised with his second place: That can't be true! and to his coach: I had a talk with myself to handle things well. Koskela, who was second in Heerenveen, now leads with 180 points.
The second day features the same distances. In the 500m for Ladies, Sang-Hwa Lee again managed to improve the track record, this time to 37.60. Jenny Wolf was now the second skater below 38 with 37.91 and Kodaira was third with 38.09. With 4 out of 4, Lee leads the World Cup with 400 points, close together are Richardson with 275, Wolf with 260 and Kodaira with 256, followed by a gap of over 100 points to the next contender.
In the men's 500m, there were seven skaters between 35.27 and 35.33. The fifth pair showed a tight race with Keiichiro Nagashima (JPN) finising in 35.14 and Gilmore Junio (CAN) in 35.16. Jan Smeekens (NED) came close with 35.18. Michel Mulder was too careful in the final turn and finished with 35.23, in fourth. In the final pair, Koskela felt his groin muscle again and just cruised to the finish. He consequently withdrew from the 1000m. Thus Nagashima won and Junio made his podium debut. Smeekens is now leading the World Cup ranking with 260 points, Mo (KOR) has 230, Kato 216 and Koskela 204.
In the Ladies' 1000m the first of four skaters below 1:16 was Brittany Bowe (USA) with 1:15.93; her fourth place is her highest finish ever in speed skating on ice (she was brilliant on inline's with 32 World Championships medals). This was out of reach for Marrit Leenstra (NED), but Lotte van Beek skated 1:15.87, narrowly skirting her Personal Best. For Van Beek it was the third bronze in a row on this distance. Nesbitt and Richardson battled for the gold in the final pair. After two wins for Richardson, this time, the last lap was too much for the American. In spite of a 17.80 opening and 27.4 first lap, after which she had gained half a second on Nesbitt, Nesbitt came back strongly with a 29.4 finish, where Richardson could not beat 30.0. Thus Richardson reached 1:15.26, a time similar to her winning time of Saturday, but Nesbitt robbed her of that track record and clocked 1:15.13. Richardson still leads the ranks with 280 points, followed by Van Beek with 210 and Nesbitt 208.
In the Men's 1000m, Davis, on his way back, set a time of 1:09.81. But soon he lost the lead, when Hein Otterspeer (NED), who fell yesterday when the front of his skate chipped the ice soon after the start, had his day. The tall Dutchman opened in 16.71, had a 25.4 lap, and at that point was at track record pace. His final lap of 27.0 brought him to win in 1:09.20. Thus Davis still holds the track record. Morrison reached silver in 1:09.64, Nuis (NED) had bronze with 1:09.72. With Koskela withdrawn, Mulder thought he might have a chance to win, but had to pay in the end for his extremely fast start of 16.42. Lee and Schwarz could not repeat their podium finishes either. Morrison now leads the World Cup ranking with 225 points, Nuis has 190, Koskela still 180 and Ottespeer is now fourth with 160. Winner Hein Otterspeer: "Finally, after three lesser races it went super. I was very relaxed, had power in my stroke without a hurried feeling. After 600m I felt that I was pretty fast and told myself to continue skating with a sound technique so nothing would be lost. That is the way I won, a dream come true. And once you win such, it is like a break-through, you feel you can grab more medals."
The sprinters will continue to travel to Harbin in China for the last World Cup of 2012 on Dec. 15-16.