Consistency is key, and these two have been at the top for a while now.
The added spectacle of the Olympics might be the only reason that I would voluntarily sit through watching seven pairs of 10k races, but these races did not disappoint. Shane Dobbin started off proceedings with a very respectable time which was then bettered by Patrick Beckert, who finished on a sub 30-second lap after hovering around the low 32s for most of the race. Then my pick for the silver medal, Bob de Jong put down a fairly steady 13:07 which unfortunately is seven seconds away from his time at world championships last year, and not only meant that he probably wasn’t going to get a silver medal, but also risked not getting a bronze. In the very next pair Jorrit Bergsma quickly got into the task of putting up what he hoped would be an unbeatable time. Starting on a good schedule around the mid 30s, leaving Bart Swings in the dust. However, just as he looked to be tiring, he went even faster in what must have been a psychologically difficult thing for Sven to witness from the warm-up lane when Jorrit skated four consecutive sub 30-second laps, to finish with an impressive time of 12:44 – less than three seconds slower than the current world record, which belongs to Sven and was set in the high altitude fast ice of Salt Lake City. Sven stepped up to the line with defending gold medallist Lee Seung Hoon from Korea, with the weight of the speed skating world’s expectations on their shoulders. The start was, predictably much faster than Jorrit or Bob’s, and even Lee was skating faster than Jorrit for the first 5 or 6 laps, but the 10k is 25 laps, and Lee eventually popped, and with four laps to go, Sven ran out of steam, and those fast laps that Jorrit put in right at the end were too much for Sven to keep up with, even though Sven had set out on world record pace. Bob de Jong managed to hold on to the bronze and now has four olympic medals from five Olympic games’. He also completes the FOURTH Dutch podium sweep of these games.
The final individual event for speed skating is the ladies 5000m, and it promises to be closely fought. Out of all the potential medallists, the momentum is almost certainly with Ireen Wüst of the Netherlands who is having a very successful games having already picked up the gold medal in the 3000m, and a silver from each of the 1000m and 1500m. Silver medallist from the 3000m, Martina Sablikova (pictured, in the middle) will be looking to turn the tables and defend her Olympic title in the event in which she also holds the world record. Past results would suggest that this is likely, since at last year’s world championships her margin of victory was a staggering 8.6 seconds over Wüst. Before the games, I would have placed Stephanie Beckert in third, but after a poor showing in the 3k, I’m more inclined to choose Claudia Pechstein (pictured, on the left) who will be skating in her sixth Olympic games(!) at the age of 41 (she turns 42 this Saturday) after missing out on Vancouver due to a doping ban. The only other person I know who has competed in six games is Colin Coates of Australia.
Based on recent performances, Olga Graf of Russia will be one to look out for, and the home crowd will no doubt help her along when he legs are feeling the burn. Then there are the Dutch who seem to be unstoppable at the moment. Watch out for an upset by Carien Kleibeuker who skates in the ice marathon series back in the Netherlands, and is actually returning to long track at the Olympics having placed 10th in the 2006 games in Torino. She not only comes into this race with the fastest 5k time of this season, but she set it during the Dutch olympic qualification tournament where she beat heavily-favoured Wüst. As a marathon skater, accustomed not only to skating much longer distances than 5k, is also used to skating on really terrible ice (Dutch marathon races are raced on long tracks in very large packs, and the ice gets very bad very quickly when there are so many people skating on the same line at the same time), and with the Sochi ice clearly troubling the competitors (although more obviously in short track, than in long track).
As with the mens 10k, it can’t be underestimated how much a difference the starting order can be. The ice conditions don’t really deteriorate very quickly in long track, but there is a significant advantage in knowing the times and the splits of skaters who have been before. Especially in the longer distances, where the ideal way to race them is to race with flat splits, watching how close competitors fare is a very important part of racing. Say you’re racing an identical twin who has done exactly the same training as you have, and is in exactly the same shape. When your twin crosses the line, not only do you know what time you have to beat, you also have the additional information of how to beat it. Say they crossed the line and looked like they had a bit of energy left, even the very best poker face can’t hide it if the final lap split is slightly faster than the penultimate lap. That tells you that you can probably go out and skate with very slightly faster lap splits and get a faster time. Similarly, if your twin slows down drastically towards the end of the race (or even halfway through the race, like I did once), that tells you that you should go out a little slower. Getting the schedule right is all important, and even very slight adjustments can make a big difference to the final time – a 5k is 12.5 laps, and so two tenths per lap, which is almost imperceptible to a skater skating a 400m track in about 30 seconds, can add up to 2.5 seconds – which at this level of competition can make a big difference to where you place.
Don’t forget to click on the sochi2104 tag below to read other articles about these olympics. You may also want to read the ‘Sochi Specials’ of which have been very popular, the close finish of the mens 1500m has raised questions about the timing equipment used in speed skating, while the controversy surrounding the American’s suits might lead you to read about the speed suits in general terms, or more specifically in an article where I articulate why it is NOT about the suits. Going even further, I break down and analyse the anatomy of a race, using American skating legend Shani Davis as an example.