The Essent ISU World Cup series for long track speed skating in this 2013-14 Olympic season kicked off at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Canada. Skaters from 30 countries were eager to race and qualify for the Olympic Games with a fast time early in the season, which is easiest done in the first two World Cups as the Calgary Olympic Oval is situated 1105m above sea level and therefore provides less air resistance.
There were 21 personal best times in the A-division, including NRs for France (1:44.05 by Alexis Contin) and Kazakhstan (Yekaterina Aydova 38.01). Antoinette de Jong (NED) skated a world record for Juniors in the 3000m of 4:00.56.
The first distance was the Ladies' 500m race. The three skaters on the podium were the same as at the end of last season. Beixing Wang (CHN) finished in 37.40, which proved to be good for third place. In the penultimate pair, world record holder Sang-Hwa Lee (KOR) opened in 10.31 and had that followed by a 26.6 lap, being the first female skater this year to reach a time below 37 seconds: 36.81. Jenny Wolf (GER) and Jing Yu (CHN) formed the final pair. Yu, the only other person ever to have skated below 37 seconds, could not match that form today and finished in 11th place. But Wolf, in what she has announced will be her last season, again had the fastest opening in the field, with 10.22 in the first 100 meters, then a 26.9 lap with a few small hesitations in the last turn and finished in second place on 37.14.
The 500m for men saw a tight race between Tae-Bum Mo (KOR) and Jamie Gregg (CAN) in the eighth pair out of the ten. Olympic Champion Mo opened in 9.68, but Gregg was faster with 9.64. It seemed that Gregg was building on his lead, but in the final straight Mo managed to reel him in and they both crossed the finish line in 34.52. Further analysis showed that Mo was a fraction faster than Gregg. In the next pair, two Dutchmen, Jan Smeekens and Michel Mulder, tried to attack that time. Smeekens won last season's World Cup, but did not have one of those podium races today. Mulder was faster in 9.66 and then finished in 34.56, just behind the two who clocked 34.52. In the final pair, Joji Kato (JPN), always a challenging contender, opened in 9.67 but saw his pair mate Ronald Mulder, Michel's twin brother, skate away from him like a rocket. His time of 9.54 was the fastest opening straight of the day. In the lap Mulder lost nothing to Mo and he finished in 34.41, a personal best time that brought him the win.
The first remarkable development in the 3000m occurred in pair five, when Dutch junior skater Antoinette de Jong started aggressively with first full laps of 29.9 and 30.7. Although the lap times went gradually up, and the last two laps were 32.4 and 32.7, she managed to beat the world junior record time of 4:00.63 that Martina Sábliková had skated in March 2006 and set the new mark at 4:00.56.
Before this weekend, the season's best time had been skated by Ireen Wüst (NED), who knew that she had to start cautiously in Calgary in order to pace herself. Yet, in her race against the experienced Claudia Pechstein (GER) Wüst opened faster than others, close to the time of De Jong and was definitely the fastest after 1800m, where she even registered a 30.8 lap, for a split time of 2:23.18. Pechstein followed in 2:24.91. It was only to be expected that Pechstein would hunt her prey in the final laps, which she did well. With laps of 31.4, 32.2 and 32.7 Wüst managed to finish inside four minutes: 3:59.68. But Pechstein had squeezed out a 31.3, a 31.5 and then, using the last inner turn to her advantage, a 31.2, thus overtaking Wüst at the very end of the race and finishing in 3:59.04. In the last pair seven-times World Cup winner Martina Sábliková (CZE) knew what to do and followed the schedule of Pechstein, gaining ground in the middle part of the race. At 1800m she passed in 2:24.34. Her lap times then were 31.4 and 31.6 but she could not quite beat Pechstein's finish as she had nobody in front of her to chase. After a 31.9 final lap, she finished in silver position, 3:59.39.
The Men's 1500m is always interesting and saw a different winner each race last year. Bart Swings, winner of the last World Cup 1500m race in March lost his balance today and ended up last. Alexis Contin (FRA) skated a national record of 1:44.05. At first it did not seem to be on the cards as his opening 24.35 was slow and the first lap of 25.7 average. But then he added laps of 26.3 and 27.6, which led to a significant improvement on his former mark of 1:44.73. Ivan Skobrev (RUS) made his race more even, starting slowest of all in 24.43, then 26.1, followed by 26.3 and 26.8. To have less than a second fall-off between two laps is strong, to have less than one second between three laps is first class. Skobrev's 1:43.77 brought him close to the podium, 4th place, and Contin finished in 5th. After Skobrev, Koen Verweij and Kjeld Nuis (both NED) skated. Nuis, more of a sprinter, opened half a second faster than the allrounder Verweij, but both had a first lap of 25.5, and Verweij went on strongly with laps of 26.0 and 27.1, setting a new personal best time of 1:42.78, more than a second faster than he had ever skated before. Nuis lost to him in the last two laps, which he completed in 26.7 and 27.9, and clocked 1:43.75, also a personal best by more than half a second, and 0.02 faster than Skobrev's time. Only Shani Davis (USA) managed to get between them. The world record holder had a strong first lap of 25.3, then 26.4, thus being the fastest after 1100m, but his final lap slipped to 27.7 and he took second place with 1:43.11.
Tomorrow's program has the second 500m and the 1500m for Ladies, and for Men the 1000m and Team Pursuit.
For full results please click here