“Expect the unexpected” should be the motto for the games, not this “faster, higher, stronger” rubbish. What was probably one of the surest things in speed skating – Nao Kodaira winning the 1000m, did not come to pass. To be fair, she did very well and came a very respectable 2nd with a time which was under Chris Witty’s olympic record set at altitude, but her finish simply wasn’t strong enough. The honour of the gold medal goes to Jorien Ter Mors of the Netherlands, a short track skater who shockingly did not qualify for the 1500m (an event in which she was olympic champion). Perhaps it was the pent up anger and frustration at missing the 1500m, or maybe it was the remarkably fast last corner of hers, but she smashed the olympic record and put down a time which ultimately prevailed. Some will argue that world record holder Kodaira might have won if she had an inner lane start (skaters starting in the inner lane skate 3 inner corners and 2 outer ones, while skaters starting in the outer lane skate 3 outer corners and 2 inner ones. crucially, the last corner is an inner for an inner lane start). In third place Miho Takagi put in an impressive performance to back up the silver medal that she won only two days ago, and American skater and former world record holder Brittany Bowe finishes in 4th with Vanessa Herzog in 5th with a time still within a second of the winner – an indication of just how close the competition is. Some might complain that the Dutch are making the competition uninteresting by taking 5 out of 5 gold medals, but there has been only one podium sweep so far, and in the ladies 1000m, only one Dutch skater in the top 5.
If you haven’t watched it, find yourself a video and sync it up to my audio file of live commentary here if you’re unlucky enough to live in a country where the commentators aren’t speed skaters and don’t know anything about the sport.
In an unusual twist to the program, the men’s 10000m is next. Indeed both the mens 10000m and ladies 5000m are surprisingly early in the order (they’re usually the last single distances that are skated) and the reason for this is most likely because of the considerable overlap of skaters who skate this event as well as the mass start. Historically, this distance is mostly dominated by the Dutch and Norwegians (although the Norwegians were notably absent from the medals in speed skating in Sochi) although recently skaters from a few other countries have stepped up to take the challenge of this grueling race. The favourite is almost certainly 5000m Olympic champion Sven Kramer who is skating well and is the in-form skater by which all other performances will be measured. Curiously enough, Sven has never won this event at the Olympic games in three attempts. Credible threats come in the form of Canadian Ted-Jan Bloemen, the world record holder in this event, as well as fellow dutchie Jorrit Bergsma who is the defending Olympic champion. Also posing a threat is Lee Seung Hoon from Korea who is very up and down, but was also Olympic champion in this distance in Vancouver.
Things to look out for are generally the same as in the 5000m – consistency in the lap times and the ability to hold one’s technique together for the duration of the race. I predict all three podium getters will skate in under 13 minutes. As one might expect, in a distance as long as 10000m, one has time to adjust one’s pace if it isn’t quite right – unlike in shorter events like the 5000m or 3000m where you have to find the right pace very quickly as there is far less margin for error. Look out for slightly slow lap splits in the first quarter or third of the race while the skaters try to find their rhythm, and then the pace slowly pick up for the middle part of the race, the last few laps then becomes a battle to hold on to whatever speed a skater might have remaining. As much as I would like to see Ted Jan Bloemen win, I suspect the stars will finally align for Sven Kramer. I’m going to predict Sven in 1st followed by Ted Jan then Jorrit Bergsma in 3rd, winning time 12:47
Listen in to my live commentary of the event here. from 8pm local time (12 noon Berlin time).
Correction: A previous version of this article included dutch skater Bob de Vries in the predictions. This is obviously incorrect as Bob is not on the start list. The article has been amended to reflect this.