"It’s always like the first time," smiled Martina Sáblíková (CZE), holding her precious gold medal tight. The 32-year-old star of the long distances grabbed her sixth career 3000m world title and her 16th overall at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships. Olympic champion Carlijn Achtereekte (NED) took silver and Natalya Voronina (RUS) came third in Salt Lake City on Thursday. In the Ladies’ Team Sprint, the Netherlands retained their world title, with junior Femke Kok as starting skater.
Martina Sáblíková (CZE) celebrates her 21st world title after the Ladies' 3000m in Salt Lake City 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Ladies’ 3000m: Achtereekte goes hard, but serial winner Sáblíková rules the ice
Carlijn Achtereekte (NED) was the first of the favorites to step onto the ice at the Utah Olympic Oval in the Ladies’ 3000m. Having won the Olympic 3000m at PyeongChang in 2018 the Dutchwoman was eager to prove that she was no one-hit wonder.
"As an athlete you want to prove that it was not a one-off," she said.
Before her race she had experienced a similar feeling to the one she had before her golden race in the Republic of Korea two years ago.
"Usually I can be vey nervous, but this time I felt more relaxed,” she said. “I had a feeling that it might well be a very beautiful day."
The 30-year-old certainly got off to a beautiful start. Achtereekte skated almost three seconds under her personal best to set a high bar for the rest of the field of three minutes, 54.92 seconds.
Esmee Visser (NED) faced Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida in the next pair, but the Netherlands’ reigning European champion started a little slower and was not able to maintain her pace in the last two laps. She finished fifth in 3:56.78, while Lollobrigida ended up eighth in a personal best of 3:58.71.
Russia's Natalya Voronina skated just under Achtereekte's split times for most of her race in the next pairing, but the silver medalist at last month's European Championships paid the price in her final two laps and finished 0.61 seconds behind her Dutch rival, eventually leaving her with the bronze medal.
With just two more pairs to come, Achtereekte began to believe that her time could be good enough for at least a podium spot.
"I didn't dare to celebrate too much [when I crossed the finish line] because I have been celebrating in the past only to end up fourth,” she said.
"It was hard to tell what my time would be worth at the end of the day. I thought 3.53 would be the winning time today, and I was slower."
Blondin took the initiative, but like so many others before she paid the price for emptying the tank too soon, ending up sixth in 3:57.56.
Sáblíková took over the lead, but the world record holder was struggling too. At 2600m she was only 0.12 ahead of Achtereekte's split.
"Then Jac [coach Jac Orie] said that she was going to beat my time,” Achtereekte said. “She always manages to keep her lap times flat towards the end.
"And she's not just anybody… she has won God knows how many titles."
Medalists in the Ladies' 3000m (from left): Achtereekte (NED, silver), Sáblíková (CZE, gold), Voronina (RUS, bronze) 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Sáblíková crossed the line in 3:54.25 to add another world title to her already remarkable list of honors. Her success in Salt Lake City brought the Czech skater’s sixth 3000m world title, her 16th title at the World Single Distances Championships and her 21st world title overall.
"I don't know the amount of titles I won," the 32-year-old Sablíková said. "It's always like the first time.
"Winning a world title is never easy. I enjoyed [my battle] with Ivanie [Blondin] and then in the last two laps I had to push with everything I had.
"Petr [coach Petr Novak] said to me: ‘maybe you can win it if you push’ and I did."
Femke Kok (left on top step) led Netherlands home in the Team Sprint, ahead of Russia (left, silver) and Poland (right, bronze) 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Ladies’ Team Sprint: Dutch junior Kok wins world title
Alongside 19-year-old Femke Kok - installed as starting skater in place of Janine Smit, who led the team last year - Jutta Leerdam and Letitia de Jong retained the Team Sprint world title for the Netherlands.
The Orange girls stopped the clock at 1:24.02 to break Russia's 2017 world record.
For teenager Kok the senior world championships were a pleasant surprise after she qualified at the Dutch trials in December, but she still has targets for the season and will skate the World Junior Championships in Tomaszów Mazowiecki, Poland, next week.
"That's equally important," the Team Sprint world champion said. "I hope to skate very fast out there, that's still my goal."
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