Just because we’ve gotten used to surprises doesn’t make them any less surprising. The day started off a little bit underwhelmingly with team USA skating a fairly slow team pursuit against the Netherlands who adjusted their pace accordingly – finishing 5 seconds slower than the time they qualified with in the quarterfinals. This was obviously because the americans didn’t fancy their chances against the dutch, so they saved themselves for the next round – where they would skate against Canada for the bronze medal. The Japanese easily overcoming Canada (who, by contrast did skate as fast as they could in their semifinal) and going into the final to face the dutch. In the men’s side of the competition, New Zealand looked to take it to home favourites Korea but it was not to be, with the Koreans accelerating considerably in their last 600m to post a final lap split which was more than a second faster than the New Zealanders, indicating that they had plenty left in the tank. In the other semifinal after swapping the lead back and forth during their 8 laps, the Norwegians stunned the dutch skaters to smash the Olympic record and go through to the final.
In the finals there were more surprises to come, but you wouldn’t know from the results. The strategy employed by team USA proved to be a winning one with them claiming the bronze medal ahead of team Canada. A well-measured effort with the skaters clearly almost exhausted by the end, Mia Manganello almost falling in the final turn and Brittany Bowe behind her having a brown-underpants moment. With the bronze, the americans end the medal drought which has plagued them since Vancouver, and Brittany and Heather – one world record holder and one former world record holder – pick up their first olympic medals. In the final, the dutch swapped leads with the Japanese several times, but in the end the Japanese team of Takagi, Takagi, and Sato, despite having far fewer olympic medals between them than the skaters on the dutch team, won in convincing fashion. In the men’s competition, the dutch, clearly angry about not advancing to the A-final, put down a very fast pace and maintained it for the full 8 laps, smashing any hopes that team New Zealand had of getting a medal by a good 5 seconds. In the final, despite a valiant attempt by favourites Korea (in their home arena) the Norwegians eeked out a win – impressive considering they had already spent themselves on an olympic-record-race earlier in the day, while Korea were pacing themselves next to the Kiwis to save themselves for the final. Both Norwegian times for the 8 laps (from the semi and from the final) faster than everyone else’s times.
Listen to my live commentary for the entire event, synchronise it with a video feed from e.g. BBC’s iplayer, or just listen to it by itself if you like the sound of my voice. Look out for a long section in the middle during one of the ice resurfacing breaks where I read a number of excellent jokes.
The men’s 1000m takes place on Friday and is the last individual distance to be contested. Difficult to go past Kjeld Nuis, as this is his preferred distance, and he is already Olympic champion in the 1500m after a spectacularly fast opening 300m and lap. Expect more of the same and a winning time under 1:07. In second place I might just throw in an expected pick of Mika Poutala from Finland – unlucky to get 4th in his preferred 500m, the father of 2 has modified his training in recent years in the quest for more speed and better endurance. For the bronze medal, I’m going to pick my countryman, Daniel Greig just because. He’s been skating well, broke his own Australian record in this distance at Salt Lake City in December, and seemed surprisingly positive after being unlucky in the draw for 500m. Also watch out for Kai Verbij, the world sprint champion and junior world record holder in this distance Jaewoon Chung (who broke Beorn Nijenhuis’ very long-lived junior world record of 1:08.53 from way back in 2003). It’s going to be a very exciting race to finish off the individual distances.
As usual, you’ll be able to listen to my live commentary of the event and synchronise it to whichever life feed or video recording you wish, we are live from 7pm local time 11am Berlin time, 10am GMT on Friday 23rd February.
Tomorrow is another rest day from speed skating competition, and we bring you an interview with legendary inline speed skating to ice speed skating crossover athlete KC Boutiette, tune in at the much later time of 9pm Berlin time (1pm “mountain time”) 8pm GMT.