Speed Skating: who to look out for in the new World Cup season
The new season of the ISU Speed Skating World Cup is upon us.
The 2018/19 series kicks off with the first of six legs on 16 November in Obihiro, Japan.
After a second Japanese event at the outdoor track of Tomakomai (23-25 Nov), the circuit will travel to Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Poland (7-9 Dec), Herenveen, Netherlands (14-16 Dec) and Hamar, Norway (Feb 1-3) before the World Cup Final in Salt Lake City, USA on 9-10 March.
The spotlight will be on the PyeongChang 2018 gold medallists who are keen to pick up from where they signed off.
Olympic champions Havard Holmefjord Lorentzen, Sven Kramer, Nao Kodaira, Kjeld Nuis, Carlijn Schoutens and siblings Miho and Nana Takagi headline the start lists for the two-day event at the Meiji Hokkaido-Tokachi Oval.
Lorentzen and Takagi go in as favourites
The reigning Grand World Cup champions, Olympic 500m champion Lorentzen and PyeongChang triple medallist Miho Takagi, are eyeing a perfect start to their season.
The duo made history as the first Norwegian and Japanese skaters respectively to win the overall trophy at the beginning of the year.
Lorentzen began his season with a win at the legendary Olympic Hall Viking ship in Hamar and hopes he can maintain his streak in the opening World Cup rounds in Asia.
For Miho it is her third race this season after a second-place finish in the Japan Cup in Nagano in October.
She was runner-up again behind Kodaira a week later at the national single distance championships.
Her older sister Nana, the surprise mass start gold medallist at PyeongChang 2018, also wants to carry on where she left off in February.
She is hoping to thrill the home crowd with some speedy laps.
"I am hoping to improve even more during the two World Cup series in Japan," she posted on social media after the nationals.
Kodaira targets world record
Olympic 500m champion Kodaira began the season strongly by winning her ninth Japanese title.
The 32-year-old is targeting the 500m world record held by Lee Sang Hwa, silver medallist in South Korea.
After delaying her pre-season for almost a month due to the strong earthquake that hit Japan’s northernmost island Hokkaido, she is hoping to hit top form soon.
"I'm not in the top shape as I was during the Olympics. I want to set my peak toward the end of the season" Kodaira told Kyodo News.
The Dutch favourite
Back-to-back Olympic 5000m gold medallist Kramer is ready for his World Cup return.
He has battled a back injury but feels strong enough for the season start, and will compete in the first two events in the 5000m and team pursuit.
The Dutchman's focus is on a 10th European and World Allround titles.
Another Dutchman to look out for is two-time Olympic and World champion Nuis.
The 1000m national record holder, who is also from Kramer's hometown of Heerenveen, has his sights set on a world record and another world title.
After leading a Dutch sweep in her debut Olympics, Carlijn Achtereekte is all set to extend her nation's command in 3000m.
Teaming up with four-time Olympic champ Ireen Wust, the 28-year-old is eager to prove that her golden run in PyeongChang was no fluke.
"I want to prove myself, not be a one-off champ, I have that Olympic title, but I want to win even more" she was quoted as saying by Nu Sport.
The ISU Calendar
Besides the World Cup circuit, the other main ISU events of the 2018/19 season will be the following:
European championships in Collalbo, Italy - 11-13 Jan 2019;
World Single Distances championships in Inzell, Germany - 7-10 Feb 2019;
World Sprint championships in Heerenveen, Netherlands - 23-24 Feb 2019;
World Allround championships in Calgary, Canada - 2-3 Mar 2019