Nao Kodaira (JPN) looks as sharp as a razor blade gearing up to next week’s world championships in Salt Lake City. The Japanese sprinter took her first 1000m World Cup gold of the season in a season's-best time of 1:12.65 on Friday. Martina Sáblíková (CZE) is also looking in great shape as the season's climax approaches, winning the 3000m on the first day of the ISU World Cup at the Olympic Oval in Calgary.
Japan's Nao Kodaira is hitting form at the perfect time ahead of the season's climax 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Ladies' 1000m: Kodaira surprises herself
Arriving in Calgary, USA skater Brittany Bowe had won all three 1000m World Cup races this season, and with a time of 1:13.13 she also held the season’s-best mark in the distance.
By the time Bowe stepped on to the ice at the 1988 Olympic Oval on Friday, Russia’s Yekaterina Shikhova (RUS) had already lowered that time to 1:12.84.
Bowe also skated faster than her previous best of the campaign but was not able to break the 1:13 barrier, finishing with 1:13.06 to place sixth despite clocking the fastest final lap of the field in 28.36 seconds.
Skating in the penultimate pairing, Kodaira and Daria Kachanova (RUS) shared the fastest opener of the field with the Russian in 17.44.
The Japanese sprinter went on to clock 26.57 and 28.63 laps to finish in 1:12.65, nudging Shikhova into second place. Kachanova finished in 1:12.98 for an eventual fifth place.
"A surprise, my first 1000m gold of the season," Kodaira said. "I think fast ice suits me well."
Top three in the Ladies' 1000m (from left): Fatkulina (RUS, second), Kodaira (JPN, first), Shikhova (RUS, third) 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
In the final pairing Olga Fatkulina (RUS) opened slower than Kodaira, clocking 17.70 at the 200m split, but managed to skate the fastest first full lap of the field in 26.51 and finish with another fast 28.59 lap. Her personal best of 1:12.80 was good enough for a silver medal and Shikhova dropped to third place overall.
"I was just enjoying it,” said the eventual bronze medalist, who was surprised her time kept her in the top three.
“I'm really happy with my opener (17.78), which was the fastest ever for me, but my first full lap (26.71) was not so good. That's something I'm going to think about for next week."
ISU World Cup Speed Skating Standings 1000m Ladies
Martina Sáblíková skated to smooth success in the Ladies' 3000m 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Ladies' 3000m: Sáblíková and De Jong rediscover lost groove
She may have already won countless medals in her career but Martina Sáblíková is still surprised when she ends up on top of the podium.
The former Olympic and five-time world champion in the 3000m stopped the clock at 3:54.93 in Calgary on Friday, leaving Antoinette de Jong (NED) 1.24 behind in second place. Natalya Voronina (RUS) took bronze in 3:56.57, meaning Russian skaters picked up a podium place in every event - men and ladies - on Friday.
"Last week [in training] I felt so bad," Sáblíková said. "I could barely skate a lap under 30 seconds. It was horrible.
"We made a video of my skating and my technique was completely off."
The 32-year-old Czech focused on her technique and found the solution with help of some of Italy’s male skaters.
"I did two trainings behind the Italian men. They skated 31-second laps, not too fast, it was a great way to find back my technique."
Sáblíková (centre) was joined on the 3000m podium by Antoinette de Jong (NED, left) and Natalia Voronina (RUS, right) 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Another skater struggling with her technique has been De Jong, who has been unable to perfect her timing in the first half of the season. To her great frustration she has not managed to qualify for an individual event at the World Single Distance Championships in Salt Lake City next week.
There were signs of a welcome return to form in Calgary, though, as her time of 3:56.18 cut 1.60 seconds off her personal best.
"I've got more composure in my strides and physically I'm good, that's why I finally got my timing right," she said.
The season's turnaround for De Jong began when she took out the Dutch national allround title on 26 January.
"That gives me a good feeling for the rest of the season, but seeing how close I am now, and knowing that I can still improve a little, I'm gutted that I cannot race next week [at the World Championships in Salt Lake City],” she said.
"But I've shown what I'm capable of and that's a good feeling, which I to carry on towards the World Allround Championships [in Hamar, Norway, 28 February-1 March], which has become my main goal this season."
ISU World Cup Speed Skating Standings 3000m Ladies
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