The 42nd World Sprint Championships took place in Salt Lake City, Utah (USA) on what is called ˜the fastest ice on earth'. Skaters came from 22 different countries.
Richardson was the twelfth skater to win the Ladies' title in 12 years. Mulder was the fifth Dutch World Sprint Champion in history, and presently also holds the world title on the 500m inline skating. This was his first participation in World Sprint Championships.
It was an exciting weekend, with tight results on a high level. In total there were as many as 87 Personal Bests including 23 national records in the distances; many National Record points in sprint combination were also improved. Christine Nesbitt (CAN) improved the 1000m track record to 1:12.91 and Sang-Hwa Lee (KOR) the 500 TR to 36.99. Joji Kato (JPN) skated a Championships Record in the first 500m competition in 34.21.
In the 500m, and 1000m respectively, there were national records the following countries: Australia: Daniel Greig 34.64; Czech Republic: Karolina Erbanová 37.67 and 1:13.84; Finland: Elina Risku 39.35; France: Benjamin Macé 35.59 and 1:08.13; Germany: Nico Ihle 34.64; Italia: Mirko Nenzi 34.99; Japan: Joji Kato 34.21; Kasakhstan: Yekaterina Aydova 38.05 and 1:14.95; Korea: Sang-Hwa Lee 1:14.19; Latvia: Haralds Silovs 35.32 and 1:07.47; Netherlands: Thijsje Oenema 37.06; Norway: Espen Hvammen 34.73; Russia: Olga Fatkulina 1:13.92.
In the Ladies' field, seven more skaters than last year started for a total of 33. The main favourite was Heather Richardson, since defending champion Jing Yu (CHN) had not been as strong this season. Richardson also had skated below the old world record points in the sprint combination a week ago in Calgary. But Christine Nesbitt, Sang-Hwa Lee, Beixing Wang (CHN) and Jenny Wolf (GER) were strong contenders, since all won the title once before.
Lee lost her first 500m this season. After a false start and with 37.28 she was almost half a second slower than the world record time she skated a week earlier. Thijsje Oenema came close with 37.38, improving a National Record that had stood for exactly four thousand days. Heather Richardson came even closer with 37.31 and would normally make up that small difference in her strong 1000m. But winner of the first 500m was defending champion Yu in 37.21.
The 1000m would give a better idea of where everybody stood; with Nesbitt and Richardson's strength in those distances, the cards would be shuffled again. Oenema was the first of those who had skated a time below 38 to compete here. After her Dutch record on the 500m, she also improved her 1000m Personal Best by almost half a second to 1:14.22 and arrived at a total of 74.490 points, which proved to be out of reach for most skaters. Beixing Wang was the next to skate below 1:15, but as it was 1:14.80, it wasn't enough attempt a title. Then Lee came and wanted to improve from her performance in the 500m and succeeded by slicing off almost a second of her Personal Best to 1:14.38. It kept her in the ranking ahead of Oenema, with 74.470 not out of reach. Nesbitt then took to the ice and cracked the track record in Salt Lake City by racing below 1:13. Her 1:12.91 was her third 1:12 race; the other two she skated last year at the World Sprints where she became the runner up. This time got her 74.475 points, just behind Lee. Olga Fatkulina skated a decent 37.71 on the 500 and now set a Russian record of 1:13.92, and was not far behind with 74.670 points. But she lost her pair to Brittany Bowe (USA), who improved herself to 1:13.68, which was enough for the 1000m podium. Yu then skated 1:13.93, which was the 6th fastest time in the distance, but combined with her winning 500m, it brought her in the lead with 74.175 points. Heather Richardson was expected to better that, but she did not seem to have full control and although her 1:13.74 brought her to the podium, it was only third place in that distance, and the 74.185 points did not get her past Yu. In fourth place, her pairmate Erbanová finished in a Czech record time of 1:13.84.
The advantage of Yu after day one was only 0.01 second for the next 500m. Yu was surprised about her lead. I was injured earlier in the season, but that is over and I have more power now. Richardson recognized there was hope: I was especially nervous in the 1000m, as I was the favourite. I had rough races. But there is room for improvement. I had a few slips here and there. I have to throw out two solid races.
In the 500m, there was a great pairing with Beixing Wang and Thijsje Oenema. Oenema started fast, 10.23, and continued strong to improve her one-day-old Dutch record to 37.06 and 111.550 points. Wang also did well, with 37.23 she was faster than Wolf's 37.28 and had 112.140 points. Nesbitt skated 37.83 and lost some ground, dropping to sixth overall with 112.305 points. Lee won the 500 in a new track record time of 36.99, and stayed ahead of Oenema with 111.465 points. Leaders Yu and Richardson were paired together, this time Richardson won, in 37.24, Yu finished in 37.28. Thus Richardson took the lead with 111.420 points, Yu 111.455.
The 1000m proved that anything can happen: Jenny Wolf and Nao Kodaira (JPN) fell and Erbanová was disqualified for hindering Bowe. Hong Zhang (CHN) raced a faster final lap than Bowe and improved her personal best to 1:13.64, also taking the lead with 149.565 points. She climbed from rank 11 to 6, where Beixing Wang seemed tired and dropped from 5th to 10th place. Oenema missed her fresh Personal Best in the 1000 by 0.01, as she was distracted by the fall of Kodaira in front of her and did not have the expected draft in the last crossing. Although details, they all matter. Yet, she set a Dutch record with 148.660 points, and took the lead. Then Yu and Nebitt came. Yu opened fast in an attempt to put pressure on Richardson, but was overtaken in the final lap by Nesbitt, who stopped the clock at a good 1:13.28, but even a high 1:12 would not been fast enough for the victory. She finished fifth overall with 148.945 points. Yu finished in 1:13.65 and took over the lead with 148.280. In the final pair, Lee opened faster than Richardson, and both had a very fast 26.8 lap, but only Richardson could keep that pace, won the 1000 in 1:13.19 and with that the title amassing 148.015 points. Lee was exactly one second slower in this distance, but it was enough to secure an overall podium finish with 148.560, so Oenema had to accept a fourth place.
Richardson: I was a little down yesterday. My mum and friends helped me over it and today I wanted to relax and have fun. Not a problem, as I skate because I love it. I believe I am prepared enough now for a little pressure. And it is special to win here at home; the past two championships here an American won as well.
Thirty six men participated. Kyou-Hyuk Lee (KOR), the four times champion in the past six editions and last year's runner-up, had a poor season so far but it was his 14th participation in the World Sprint Championships and he is experienced enough to know how to rise to the occasion. Stefan Groothuis (NED), the defending champion, had health problems in the first half of the season. Favoured were therefore the strong Pekka Koskela (FIN), the Dutch debutant Michel Mulder and his team mate Hein Otterspeer. Then there is Tae-Bum Mo (KOR), good at both distances, as he is the Olympic Champion in the 500m and Olympic silver medalist for the 1000m distance, and Jamie Gregg (CAN), especially strong in the 500m and fast in the 1000m.
Groothuis was the first of the favourites to set a 34 time, 34.82, and his example was followed by Lee, 34.70, and Mitchell Whitmore, the best USA skater present, who set a strong Personal Best of 34.76. The lead was taken over several times. Ryohei Haga (JPN) brought his Personal Best down to 34.43, which was good enough for the podium in this distance. His countryman Joji Kato also skated a Japanese record time, 34.21, a new Championship Record. The old one was 34.33 by Lee last year. Koskela and Gregg had a tight race, where Gregg's 34.43 brought him shared silver, and Koskela's 34.44 got him to fourth place. Close behind him was Mulder with 34.47, a Personal Best. Mark Tuitert (NED) ripped a muscle in the opening straight and fell because of it. He tried to start in the 1000m but had to abort his race and withdrew.
The best two 500m sprinters were paired together in the 1000m, but Kato finished in 33rd with a very slow final lap. Haga did better with a Personal Best but just a time of 1:08.88. The first race that was really interesting for the classification was Lee. The 34-year-old managed a 1:07.87 which gave him the lead with a total of 68.635 points. A great surprise came two pairs later, when Haralds Silovs, the former short track champion, brought the Latvian record down to 1:07.47 and took his first podium place in this field, but 500m time was not enough to compete for the overall prizes. Gregg, after his podium place in the 500m, skated 1:08.41 and matched Lee's points: 68.635. Otterspeer won the 1000m in the last World Cup and also took the victory today, albeit close: 1:07.46. He moved ahead in points with 68.520. Mo disappointed, a full second above his Personal Best and got only 68.735 points. Mulder had a strong 1000m, beating Samuel Schwarz (GER) and setting a Personal Best with 1:07.49, taking third in the distance and taking the overall lead with 68.251 points. Koskela and Groothuis missed the podium with high 1:07s. Koskela's point total of 68.400 still gave him ample room for improvement for the second day. Groothuis was still in the race with 68.720 points. Mulder: I had a very good first day, which gives confidence. I am in good shape and will do my utmost, but I have to stay focused on every single race.
Koskela: Satisfying. Good, but not perfect. I was surprised about my 1000m. After 600 I was dead, still my 1000 was much better than in Calgary. The difference is not so much, and there are two more races to come.
The next day proved that the tension was the main handicap for most of the top skaters, diminishing the field even more in the 500m. Kato won again, this time in 34.29, but not improving in the ranking. Denis Koval (RUS) improved himself again, skating 34.56, a career-high fifth place in this distance. Gilmore Junio (CAN) improved to 34.53, which brought him bronze in this distance and moved up to fourth with 103.320 points. Koskela made two mistakes in the opening straight and lost 0.2s there. With a good lap he reached 34.63, keeping his position with 103.030 points. Gregg won his pair with 34.50 and had another second place finish, moving up to third, 103.135 points. Teammates Otterspeer and Mulder had to race together. Otterspeer made a first false start which didn't help their nerves. Both had a poor race, finishing outside the top-15. Mulder beat Otterspeer with 34.75 against 34.81. Otterspeer dropped consequently to fifth, 103.330, Mulder with 102.965 points kept the lead thanks to the fact that Koskela had also made mistakes.
Michel Mulder: The last turn did not go well, too close to the laps. I wanted too much. The false start was a bit of a problem. Now I just want to race a good thousand. When you are first, you still have a chance. I had rather made a gap. The tension is impossible. It is one of the worst days of my career in that respect. I hope it will turn out to be the best day.
Otterspeer: After ten meters I thought: this is not good. At least I could skate a very good lap of 24.7. Sprinting is hard, especially the 500m. I have to skate a 1000m to remember. I realize that I could still win. Defending champion Groothuis dropped further down and said he had to accept the reality that he was not yet good enough.
The tension was not less in the conclusive 1000m. For many skaters, racing four fast races in one weekend was too tiring and there were only four personal bests on this last distance with the men. Everybody seemed empty. This was a slight advantage for the Dutch, who could never qualify without having four strong races. Lee tried and had a fast 24.8 first lap, but finished in 1:08.23, well behind the fastest time of Silovs 1:07.72 (who, with 26.0, had the fastest last lap). He was also slower than Mo, who gathered 137.410 points with a time of 1:07.91. Lee with 137.480 was no longer the best Korean. Otterspeer then put everything into his race and pulled off a 1:07.43, personal best again, with laps of 24.7 and 26.2. With 137.045 he took over the lead and now had to wait. Junio, who moved up after the 500m, dropped 10 places when he had to let Koskela cross before him at the last crossover. Koskela had started good but had a bad last turn where he miraculously did not fall. Considering this, his 1:07.97 wasn't bad, but, with 137.015 points, good enough to stay in front of Otterspeer. The final pair saw Mulder and Gregg. Gregg went off in an all-or-nothing-attempt with 16.19 and a first lap of 24.6, but Mulder skated well, knowing that Gregg would never be able to carry that speed through to the last lap. Mulder had more rest in his strides, handled the turns well and overtook Gregg in the last turn. 1:07.65 was his time, good enough not just for this distance's silver, but to keep and increase his lead over Koskela. 136.790 was 0.02 faster than the World record points that Groothuis set last year. Gregg finished in 1:07.85, and just missed the podium with 137.060 points.
Mulder: I cannot believe it, I really cannot believe it. Wow. I was so nervous this morning but felt when coming on the ice that I was still in shape. When I heard the stadion speaker say how fast Gregg was in this last race, I thought that's his tactics to get rid of me. And I knew he would break down. The last fifty meters were a hard fight. I could not have won this title without my team including Hein (Otterspeer). And I don't know how to feel now: To be world champion in two sports in one year. And last year I had silver in my first World Championships 500m, now gold in my first World Sprints. Not bad.