Today started very early with the heats for the 500m. Unlike in long track ice skating, in inline skating the 500m is not about racing the clock. A number of heats, quarters, semis, and finals are contested with the first two place getters advancing to the next round. 500m is short enough to be considered a sprint, after all, on a pair of speed skates, a good skater would typically be putting in just over 40 seconds of solid effort. The start is all-important, and the finishes are very close as can be seen above.
The track in Geisingen is particularly tricky because it is so fast. The quality of the grip is very high, as are the speeds, which means that the so-called ‘racing line’ is very narrow. This is the ideal line you want to be skating on to get the best speed. When I say ‘narrow’ what I really mean is that slight deviations from this line will result in a substantial sacrifice of speed. Conversely, a track with a ‘wide’ skating line has more opportunities for passing because even though there is one ‘ideal’ racing line, there are certain parts of the track (usually at the entrance and exit to the corners) where one can deviate from the ideal line and still keep a good speed. This is important for passing, and a track with a narrow racing line is difficult to pass on – hence the importance of the start in an event in which a skater typically skates at full throttle for the whole race.
There were a few noteworthy events to come out of today’s 500m races. Firstly, the Italians junior B girls continued to have a very successful euros campaign with another podium sweep. Secondly, we saw the implementation of one of the harsher rules in our sport. There are two types of fouls – a technical foul, and a ‘sporting’ foul. Technical fouls include such things as false starts, and will ordinarily result in a warning and the brandishing of a yellow card by one of the officials. A sporting foul includes instances where a skater deliberately interferes with another skater either by impeding or grabbing them.
For a long time, our sport suffered from problems with these sporting fouls. One of the major problems was that a team mate could grab a competitor from another country and essentially remove them from the race. This would get the team mate disqualified, of course, but if removing that competitor allowed you to win the race, then there wasn’t much that the target could do about it, other than perhaps employ a team mate to ‘protect’ them from such unsportsmanlike conduct. The solution to this problem follows the system of so-called ‘professional fouls’ in association football, where the sinner gets a red card AND has to miss the next match. Of course, a professional foul in football is much more serious than many of the fouls which would be counted in skating, and it still remains a contentious issue.
During one of the senior ladies 500m semifinals, Holland’s Manon Kamminga, a serious contender for a medal at the distance was ruled to have committed such a foul on Portugal’s Marta Nunes, and so not only had to sit out the 500m final, but also the 15k elimination race later in the day, another race in which she was a serious contender (she had won the silver medal in the 10k points/elimination race the previous night). ‘Sad’ doesn’t begin to cover it…
Also of note from today’s 500m races was Simon Albrecht’s new unofficial world record of 38.601 seconds. He literally skated away from everyone else leaving the remaining three skaters in the final to battle it out for second place.
Next up were the elimination races which are similar to the points/elimination races from the previous night, except that there are no points sprints, so in a sense these races are easier to understand in that the winner is simply the first person across the line. Italy impressed in the junior A boys division with a podium sweep, overcoming a spirited effort from France in the final laps. Of note as well was the senior men’s race where there was much confusion over who was and who wasn’t eliminated, leading to some unexpected early departures from the field. Unlucky to be caught at the back on the final elimination lap was Bart Swings, who was a contender for the win, leaving Alexis Contin and Fabio Francolini to duke it out in the end. Once again, it was Alexis with a decisive move with one and a half laps to go which sealed the deal and gave him his second gold medal of the race meet.
Full results from the track competition can be found here.
Don’t forget to check out the photo page.