I believe my first words at the conclusion of my men’s 1500m live commentary were “that was unexpected”. Kjeld Nuis (Nuis is pronounced to rhyme with “mouse”) skated into the lead in spectacular fashion with a time of 1:44.01 – almost a full second faster than the winning time in Sochi and very nearly faster than the current Olympic record which was set at altitude in Salt Lake City back in 2002. That Kjeld won the 1500m was probably the least surprising thing about the day. The other heavy favourite – Koen Verweij, also from the Netherlands performed surprisingly poorly all the way down at 11th – not a terrible position, but much lower than expected for a guy who missed out on the gold medal by 3 thousandths of a second just four years ago. Curiously enough, 11th, 12th, and 13th were the podium occupants from Sochi. In second place, Patrick Roest, another Dutchie skating in the 4th pair skated the only other sub-1:45 1500m of the day and set a very high bar which skater after skater smashed themselves against but to no avail. At the end of the day the bronze medal ended up in the hands of an 18-year-old Korean making his Olympic debut in front of a home crowd. My heart goes out to Allan Dahl Johansson who suffered a fall, and unfortunately has to leave with a big “what if” since the Korean who won the bronze medal briefly held the junior world record before Allan Dahl broke it again in the very next pair.
As usual, I provided live audio commentary for the event for the benefit of those who live in countries with poor-quality commentary, or commentary in a language they are not yet familiar with (for example a British skater living and training in the Netherlands). Listen alongside a re-watching of the event. I try to say “bang” when the starting gun goes off to help people synchronise audio and video feeds, although today was challenging because there was another timing clash with Short Track speed skating events and both of the feeds I was watching (the dutch and canadian – because as major skating countries I thought they would have the most reliable and complete coverage) kept cutting to short track and I had to improvise using only the text-information updates on the official olympic website.
Next in the program is the ladies 1000m. A hotly contested field with some close racing to watch out for, surprisingly enough it should be fairly easy to predict the winner (although this is the Olympics – anything can happen). Japan’s Nao Kodaira has gone from strength to strength in the last two seasons and it has culminated in what one can only describe as “dominance” in both the 500m and 1000m events. She’s only lost one of these races this season, and that was because she fell, the very next week she broke the world record. Former world record holders Brittany Bowe and Heather Bergsma, both from the USA, will also be contesting the distance, after a poor performance (really, only a poor last lap) Heather will be looking to redeem herself, and Brittany while not exactly on-form coming into these games has been improving rapidly in recent weeks, and with a 5th place in the 1500m just two days ago, could very well threaten the medals. Defending Olympic champion Hong Zhang will be one to watch, as will up-and-coming Austrian star Vanessa Herzog who is another athlete who started out in inline speed skating before adding ice to the mix. European sprint champion Karolina Erbanova from the Czech Republic, and Norwegian Hege Bøkko (yes, she is the sister of Håvard Bøkko) also highly ranked in the world cup standings and likely to threaten for the silver and bronze medals.
In light of recent history, it would be foolish to discount the Dutch medal chances, with Marrit Leenstra and Jorien Ter Mors almost certain to put down fast times, and in addition three other Japanese skaters round off a full-quota Japanese entry into this distance – watch for 1500m specialist Miho Takagi, hungry from just missing out on the gold in her favoured distance, who could easily snatch a medal if ice conditions aren’t fast. My final podium pick – Nao Kodaira with the gold, followed by Vanessa Herzog, and Jorien Ter Mors, and we may finally see Chris Witty’s 16-year-old olympic record fall.
Listen to my live commentary for the event here from 7pm local time (11am in Berlin).