These olympics continue to surprise and inspire. Most unusual of the aftermath of the preliminaries is the absence of team Canada in the ladies’ final. The team that lost narrowly to the USA (by 4 hundredths of a second – less than a blade length) was the same team that broke the world record back in Calgary on the 6th of December. Also slightly unexpected is the absence of the Netherlands in the finals. I say “slightly” because the dutch are famous for not working as well as a team as some of the other countries are. The dutch men’s team was simply outskated by a strong team USA led by former inliner Chad Hedrick, while the dutch ladies were their own worst enemy when Renate Groenewold ran out of gas with a lap to go and caused her team to finish behind a strong German team.
The Russian ladies were unexpectedly bettered by Poland, who were in turn bettered (though not unexpectedly) by Japan. Japan will now face Germany in the final, who did very well to overcome the upset-causing US team despite Anni Friesinger running out of gas and falling in the final straight, dramatically throwing her skate over the line then punching the ice in the belief that she had let her team down, only to look up at the scoreboard to find that they had ousted the americans by two tenths of a second.
While the dutch were busy being knocked out by the americans in the men’s race, team Canada made a tough match with Norway look easy, bettering them by over a second, to set up another USA vs Canada showdown, which should warm up the crowd for tomorrow’s big hockey final.
It is difficult to pick a winner in either division. Germany needs to swap out Friesinger and bring in fresh skater Katrin Mattscherodt and also need to communicate a bit better to avoid the last skater falling off the back. Japan have cruised through without much fuss and really have skated “textbook” races, which will make it close. Based on individual performances of the skaters, I’m tipping Germany because of their better performance in the distance events, which will give them an advantage in recovering between rounds, and skating on this slow ice.
The men’s is also very difficult to pick. Watch out for “pushing” strategies. Canada have been practicing and perfecting a technique of the back skaters pushing the front skaters in order to save a bit of energy of the leading skater, particularly in the corner exit. The americans are just beginning to learn about this, and it could be the crucial difference in what is otherwise a very close match up. You’ve got one experienced veteran on each team, in Chad Hedrick and Denny Morrison, both of whom are great 5000m/1500m skaters, teamed up with relatively young and less-experienced up-and-coming skaters. I’m going to give it to Canada, because the hometown crowd will make the lactic burn in their thighs just a little more bearable.