The eyes of the Salt Lake City home crowd will be on world record holder Brittany Bowe (USA) defending her title in the 1000m at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships on Saturday, but there's a lot more exciting racing to enjoy. Will Martina Sáblíková (CZE) be able to bring the last standing Calgary world record to Salt Lake City, will Miho Takagi (JPN) win her first individual ISU World Singe Distances Speed Skating title in the 1500m or will Ireen Wüst (NED) be able to skate a world record in that event for the first time in her career?
3000m: Dutch and Canadian challenges for Sáblíková
Martina Sáblíková (CZE) at the ISU European Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
The Ladies kick-off the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships with the 3000m. Martina Sáblíková (CZE) already won the title in this event five times before. Last season she grabbed the 3000m world record at the ISU World Allround Speed Skating Championships in Calgary, only to shave off another second a week later in Salt Lake City.
Antoinette De Jong (NED) at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
At last year's ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships in Inzell, Antoinette de Jong (NED) took silver behind Sáblíková, but the Dutchwoman did not manage to qualify for this year's 3000m. She has to leave the Dutch honor to no less than Olympic 3000m Champion Carlijn Achtereekte, Olympic 5000m Champion Esmee Visser and ISU World Speed Skating Mass Start Champion Irene Schouten.
Apart from the Dutch there's a Canadian challenge for Sáblíková too. Ivanie Blondin won an ISU World Cup Speed Skating 3000m and 5000m race this season and Isabelle Weidemann also took an ISU World Cup Speed Skating gold in the 3000m.
Team Sprint: Netherlands versus Russia
In the second Ladies' event on Thursday, the Netherlands will defend their Team Sprint title. Russia is the most important rival. With Angelina Golikova, Olga Fatkulina and Daria Kachanova the fast Russian Ladies managed to beat the Dutch at the second ISU World Cup Speed Skating in Tomaszów Mazowiecki, Poland.
Canada Ladies' Team Sprint at the ISU Four Continents Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Canada, who came fifth at last year's ISU World Speed Skating Championships, might be up for a surprise after having finished third behind the Netherlands and Russia in this season's ISU World Cup Speed Skating ranking.
The Ladies' Team Sprint world record is 1:24.84, set by Russia at the Calgary Olympic Oval in 2017.
Team Pursuit: Japan back in strongest line-up
Thursday's Team Sprint will be followed by the Ladies' Team Pursuit event on Friday afternoon. Japan's Miho and Nana Takagi have dominated this event together with Ayano Sato over the past three years.
Japan Ladies' Team Pursuit at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (JPN) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
This season, Japan have shown to be vulnerable if the line-up changes. With Nene Sakai as a substitute for Sato, the Takagi sisters only finished eighth at the first ISU World Cup Speed Skating race this season. Russia took advantage and won the race in Tomaszów Mazowiecki, and Canada took gold in the second ISU World Cup Speed Skating race in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan in December.
At the ISU World Cup Speed Skating in Nagano, Japan, the Takagi sisters were reunited with Sato and the Olympic champions outclassed the rest of the field again. In Salt Lake City, Japan is set to skate in their strongest line-up and it's hard to imagine anyone else being able to beat the world record holders. Japan clocked 2:50.87 in Salt Lake City in 2017.
500m: Kodaira, the Russians and Herzog
Nao Kodaira (JPN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (CAN) 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
In the Ladies' 500m Nao Kodaira (JPN) is eager to take back the title she lost to Vanesse Herzog last year in Inzell. The Olympic champion from Japan has faced fierce competition from Russia's Angelina Golikova and Olga Fatkulina this season.
At the ISU World Cup Speed Skatng in Calgary last week, Kodaira beat pair mate by only a 0.13 second margin. Golikova skated a Russian national record, but she did not want to celebrate too soon, expecting that the ice in Salt Lake City would be a little faster than Calgary.
"Last year I also broke the national record but the next day my friend Olga Fatkulina broke it again," Golikova said. "If I'm still the fastest after Salt Lake City it will really be a national record."
Vanessa Herzog (AUT) at the ISU European Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Herzog, who has had a rough first half of the season after being disqualified for two false starts at the first ISU World Cup Speed Skating in Minsk in November, only dared dreaming of retaining the world title.
"The [season] start was terrible of course, but I tried to fight my way back and from Japan [fourth ISU World Cup Speed Skating in Nagano in December] until now, I was on the podium in every 500m. "My goal is to be on the podium next week. [Defending my title] would be a dream, but the other girls are very strong."
The 500m world record is still held by retired Sang-Hwa Lee (KOR), who skated 36.36 in Salt Lake City in 2013.
5000m: Sáblíková's home territory
Saturday's program starts with the longest distance for the Ladies, which is Martina Sáblíková's home territory. The 32-year-old Czech has won the ISU World Speed Skating 5000m title ten consecutive times already.
Esmee Visser (NED) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (POL) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
The Salt Lake City Championships race will be exciting nonetheless, because Esmee Visser showed that Sáblíková is beatable, winning the Olympic 5000m title in PyeongChang in 2018.
The Ladies' 5000m world record is the only world record in a classic distance, which is not skated at the Utah Olympic Oval. Martina Sáblíková set her mark of 6:42.01 at the ISU World Allround Speed Skating Championships in Calgary last year.
1000m: Rebound for home favorite Bowe
All eyes in the Ladies' 1000m will be on reigning champion Brittany Bowe (USA). The home favorite won the first three ISU World Cup Speed Skating races in the double sprint distance this season, but last week's race in Calgary must have worried her a bit.
Even though she skated faster than her own season's best time, Bowe ended up in a disappointing sixth place.
Miho Takagi (JPN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (POL) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Bowe still holds the 1000m world record with 1:11.61, which she skated at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating Final in Salt Lake City last year.
1500m: Takagi is lady to beat
Miho Takagi (JPN) is the outright favorite to win the Ladies 1500m on Sunday. The Japanese ace underlined her candidacy for the title with a superior gold medal at the Calgary ISU World Cup Speed Skating last week, beating Ivanie Blondin by a 1.43 second margin.
Ireen Wüst (NED) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (CAN) 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Ireen Wüst (NED) came third in Calgary, 1.65 seconds behind Takagi. The Dutch title defender still believes that she can beat her Japanese rival though.
"I rely on my experience," Wüst said. "I rely on my race instinct, which always gives me that little bit extra on big occasions." "She [Takagi] is the lady to beat and I'm really curious to see how she handles that pressure."
Takagi, who was the first lady to skate the 1500m under 1:50, when she set the world record to 1.49,83 at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating Final in Salt Lake City last year, has never won an individual ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating title yet.
Mass Start: Schouten, Blondin or…?
Ivanie Blondin (CAN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (CAN) 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
The Ladies' Mass Start has been a battle between Ivanie Blondin (CAN), Irene Schouten (NED) and Bo-Reum Kim (KOR) over the past four years, with the Dutch lady winning two world titles and the other two both taking one gold.
Blondin may feel her legs after already having skated the 1500m previously on Sunday, which might give defending champion Schouten and Kim the upper hand. They all have to look at Nana Takagi too. The Japanese lady surprised the rest of the field winning the Olympic title in 2018 already.
Francesca Lollobrigida (ITA) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (CAN) 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
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