Essent ISU World Cup Speed Skating –Astana (KAZ)
The air pressure in the Alau Ice Palace was high and in general, times were a bit slower than in Kolomna. Still, there were 27 personal best times, including four national records on the long distances: in the 10,000m for Kazkahstan Dmitry Babenko 13:10.31; for Belgium Bart Swings 13:13.16; for Belarus: Vitalij Mikhailov 13:56.80; and the 5000m Jelena Peeters 7:09.08 (BEL). The Korean Men broke a national record in the Team Pursuit (3:41.49), ad did France (3:45.69) and Belgium (3:49.27).
First were the 1500m for men. Shani Davis (USA), who didn’t start at the first World Cup event due to an injury and was far from the podium in the second, had a good race and set a time of 1:46.0. Alexis Contin (FRA) was the first to come close, with 1:46.59; but in the next pair Russian Denis Yuskov took over that second place with 1:46.52, and one pair later it was Zbigniew Brodka from Poland who was again faster with 1:46.42. In the next two pairs, neither Bart Swings (BEL), Lunde Pedersen (NOR) or last week's winner Verweij (NED), reached the podium. In the final pair Håvard Bøkko (NOR) started with 23.93 as fast as Davis; but then had a lap of 26.5 where Davis had 25.8. Davis then had 27.1 and 29.0. Bøkko had laps of 27.4 and 28.4. Not enough to overtake winner Davis, it still brought him silver with 1:46.34, the bronze medal went to Brodka. In the World Cup Ranking on this distance, Bøkko took over the lead with 210 points, Maurice Vriend (NED) has 181, Brodka made a jump up, to pass Verweij and be third with 160 points.
For the first time this season the ladies matched their powers in longest Olympic distance, the 5000 metres. A new track record was set in the B-division early on the day, 7:07, but that was improved three times during the A-division races. The first time was by Olga Graf (RUS), a skater who has been continually skating personal best times in the past year. She took 9 seconds from her Personal Best in a tight race with Dutch Diane Valkenburg to bring the Track Record to 7:01.38. Last week's 3000m winner Claudia Pechstein then managed to just stay below that time with 7:01.05; her lap times went gradually up from 32.2 to 34.5 whereas Graf had a more even race with laps between 32.7 and 33.6. That flat schedule was also followed by Martina Sábliková, who was slower than Pechstein for most of the race, her laps were between 32.9 and 33.5 and she finished with a 33.6; that last lap was the moment that she managed to get below the time of Pechstein; the Czech won her first race this season with 7:00.75, which also is the new track record. In the World Cup ranking, Sáblikova leads with 260 points, Beckert, who finished in fourth this week, follows with 220, Pechstein with 201.
Twelve countries participated in the Men’s Team Pursuit, with national records for Belgium, France and Korea. In the fourth pair, Norway finished in 3:43.43 taking the lead; but in the fifth pair the Koreans went faster from the start, with three 26'' laps, finishing in 3:41.49. The Canadians, racing the Koreans, had the lead in most of the race, but their laps went up as their formation lost its coherence. The Dutch team in the final pair had to do without Sven Kramer, but in their fifth lap they had a faster passing time than the Koreans, and with 3:41.27 they managed to stay unbeaten in this season's Team Pursuits.
In the Ladies’ 1500m, again the main duel was between ‘the fighter’ Christine Nesbitt (CAN) and ‘the flyer’Marrit Leenstra (NED). Nesbitt has won the first, Leenstra the second race and this time Leenstra did not succeed in overtaking Nesbitt, who raced strongly but struggled in the final lap. So Nesbitt won this week with 1:57.18. Leenstra finished second with 1:57.29 but this was really tight, as third place went to fellow-Dutch Linda de Vries with 1:57.30 and fourth to Diane Valkenburg (NED) with 1:57.31. With this win, Nesbitt took back the lead in the World Cup ranking with 270 points, Leenstra has 260, and Martina Sábliková (CZE) with 146 points is third.
The Men’s 10,000 meters is not raced that often, and many skaters grabbed the opportunity to improve their personal best times. Home hero Babenko set the lead time before the draw with a Kazakh record time of 13:10.31 after an even race with laps between 31.2 and 31.7, and finishing with a 31.0. In the final three pairs, most skaters were faster. The first to set a Track Record time was Håvard Bøkko with 13:07.54, in a close race with his young team mate Sverre Lunde Pedersen, who improved himself by more than half a minute to 13:08.82. Bob de Jong (NED), Olympic Champion of 2006 was paired with the Olympic Champion of 2010 Seung-Hoon Lee (KOR). Lee could follow De Jong who skated laps around 30.8 in the first half of the race, but after 6000m, Bob’s laps went down to 30.3 and Lee had to let the Dutchman go. De Jong finished three seconds above his pb in a new TR of 12:51.22. Lee managed to just stay ahead of Bøkko, finishing in 13:07.06, good enough to take bronze in the end. In the final pair, Jorrit Bergsma (NED) left Jan Blokhuijsen(NED) behind him and had a long row of laps around 30.3. At two third of the race, Bergsma was only a second over the World Record, but could not continue at that pace. For both skaters, the final 2000m were hard; Blokhuijsen’s laps dropped to 35.8 in the end and he finished behind Babenko in 13:11.62; Bergsma, although he lost most of his 7'' advantage he had to De Jong earlier, still had the strength for some 31'' and a 32.1 lap, could celebrate victory with 12:50.40.
This track record was only 0.07 behind his personal best time. It was the fifth fastest time ever skated on this distance. Bergsma takes over the lead in the ranking from Kramer and has 250 points, Kramer has 200 and Bob de Jong has 200.
Finally, in the ladies’ Team Pursuit the Canadian Ladies, third in Heerenveen, won here with a strong 2:58.40. They now lead the World Cup ranking with 170 points. The Korean Ladies were second in 3:00.55 and the Dutch, who had been faster than Korea until a lap before the end, lost too much in their final lap and finished third in 3:00.71.
The overall World Cup leaders are Sáblikova and Pechstein (both have 37 points) and in the men’s field Jorrit Bergsma (35 points).
Most allround skaters will take a break until January, the sprinters will gather in Nagano (JPN) the coming weekend for their second meeting.