It was the first time it was included in the program, but what an epic event it was. Even though there were only 6 races in total, it seemed like every little scenario managed to play itself out. There were falls and breakaways and even a rare instance of someone picking up 3 points and not advancing to the final (sorry Harry). In the ladies, the first semifinal was unusual with only a small handful of skaters picking up the lions share of the points, which meant that Elena Rigas from Denmark, a past medallist in world cups (and indeed Denmark’s only ever medallist at that level of competition) was not able to advance despite putting in a very strong skate – whenever she went for an intermediate sprint, thinking that one of the skaters who already had enough points to advance to the final would ease up and not go for points, was bitterly disappointed when they inexplicably decided to sprint for points that they didn’t need. In the second semifinal, there was an unfortunate incident involving a fall (actually, there were two) and one of the strong Japanese skaters Ayano Sato was prematurely removed from the competition, along with one of the heavy favourites Ivanie Blondin. In the men’s competition, things were similarly random, with points being spread over a large number of skaters in one semifinal resulting in Latvian Haralds Silovs picking up 3 points, ordinarily enough to easily make it through, but only finishing in 9th place, just outside the required ranking to advance. In the other semifinal, Norwegian superstar Sverre Lunde Pedersen picked up two third places in intermediate sprints, to finish with 2 points and 9th place, also just outside of a finals berth. (for a more comprehensive explanation of how the mass start works, read my article that explains it)
In the ladies final hesitation was met with determination when Estonia’s Saskia Alusalu (pictured) went on a bold solo breakaway with 15 laps to go (out of the total distance of 16 laps). She collected the win in the first, then the second, then the third intermediate sprint before finally being caught by the pack when Mia Manganello of the US finally put in the effort required to bridge the gap, and thus taking her out of contention for the medals. In the final sprint it was Nana Takagi of Japan who had positioned herself a little better than defending world champion Kim Bo Reum of Korea and she took the gold medal while Irene Schouten came home with a bronze in a thrilling final sprint. Even though Francesca Lollobrigida of Italy, Dan Guo of China, and Heather Bergsma of the US were hot on their heels, they placed much further down the order because Saskia had been picking up all the points from the intermediate sprints, an effort which would see her finish a very respectable 4th place.
In the mens final, the workhorse who dictated race dynamics was surely Switzerland’s Livio Wenger who picked up points in all intermediate sprints but still came 4th, he was followed by young guns Viktor Hald Thorup from Denmark in 5th and Linus Heidegger in 6th. Going into the closing stages Sven Kramer made a move for the front, going on a short-lived breakaway, making everyone think that he was making a move for the gold medal, but when he stood up it became immediately clear that he was working for team mate Koen Verweij by breaking away and forcing skaters like Bart Swings and Seung Hoon Lee to give chase, thereby taking blunting their final sprints. It was not enough in the end, however, since Jaewon Chung, the youngest skater in the entire speed skating competition got on the front and dragged the pack across the gap Sven had made. With the gap bridged, Bart took a commanding lead with Lee and Verweij right behind him. In the dying stages of the race, Lee snuck a pass up the inside of Swings, much to Swings’ frustration and dismay, and came barelling into the final straight with enough of a lead to hold on for the gold medal. Swings came second and Verweij third with Joey Mantia, Alexis Contin, Shane Williamson, and Andrea Giovannini not far behind, but alas, since none of those skaters picked up any points from the intermediate sprints, they were ranked 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th respectively.
So that concludes the Olympic Games for speed skating, as usual be sure to check out my live commentary for the event and sync it up to whatever video of the event that you can find. I may at a later date write a summary article about the games as a whole, and also what the experience of commentating it was like, but for now I’m going to go eat some lunch (at 3pm) and entertain a baby. I hope you’ve enjoyed my daily updates, live commentary, and interviews. I may continue to do live interviews if for no other reason than to get value for money out of the one month subscription I paid to mixlr.com to be able to do my little radio show.
Be sure to check out my other articles, updates, and blog posts and feel free to explore the rest of this website; like life, it’s not just about skating.