Shani Davis quest headlines Olympic long track storylines
Kramer, Sablikova look to build legacies
The Canadian team will be hard pressed to match the success achieved in long track speed skating in the last two Olympics.
You can read more on that story in the adjoining sidebar article.
Here are the top storylines involving the rest of the long track field at Adler Arena in Sochi:
Shani do it?
American Shani Davis has won gold and silver at the last two Olympics. Davis, who earlier this century trained out of Calgary, can become the first man ever to win a Winter Olympic event three straight times.
But in addition to a three-peat in the 1,000 metres, the Chicago native is looking to climb the podium in the 1,500, which has proven elusive. He's settled for second place in the event the last two Winter Games.
“All sprinters can skate it as well as distance guys, everyone is trying to be king of the mountain on that one,” Davis told CBC Sports before the season.
American woman x 2
The U.S. team was carried by the strength of the men's competitors in the last two Olympics: Davis, as well as since retired teammates Joey Cheek and Chad Hedrick.
No more. The Americans have two legitimate gold medal threats in the women’s competition, and they're not bitter rivals.
"Brittany [Bowe], we’re teammates and roommates, we stay in and hangout and have fun, there is not too much tension between us," said Heather Richardson.
Richardson and Bowe have accounted for eight of the 12 podium spots in four World Cup races held this season at 1,000. Richardson has won three, but Bowe's lone win at the distance involved a world record time of one minute, 12.58 seconds.
Both skaters have been on the World Cup podium in the 1,500, while Richardson also has three podium results in the 500m.
Richardson heads to her second Olympics, while the former Division-1 college basketball player Bowe makes her Winter Games debut.
There may be no athlete in any sport at Sochi who is a more prohibitive favourite in a single event than South Korea’s Sang-Hwa Lee in the 500-metre race. She broke the world record of 36.94 seconds in Calgary in January 2013 and then set a new standard three more times, lowering the mark to 36.36 in November.
The 24-year-old has won all seven World Cup races entered at 500 so far this season, with Jenny Wolf of Germany and Beixing Wang of China the skaters most often fighting it out for second.
Future or past?
Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic and Claudia Pechstein of Germany have gone 1-2 at all four races held between distances of either 3,000 or 5,000 metres this season, with Sablikova winning three.
Sablikova, 26, won two gold and a bronze in Vancouver.
Pechstein, who will turn 42 at Sochi, has five Olympic gold and nine medals overall dating back to 1992, but missed Vancouver due to a suspension for irregular blood levels. The skater, who's also a German police officer, has strenuously denied ever doping.
Sven Kramer thought he was on the way to double gold at the Vancouver Olympics in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres, but he was disqualified in the latter race when his Dutch coach misdirected him on a cross-over.
Seung Hoon-Lee may be the only who can prevent Dutch dominance at those two disances, with Kramer’s compatriots Jorrit Bergsma and Bob de Jong also medal contenders.
The Netherlands went from nine medals in Turin to seven in Vancouver. There was a sense that more could have been accomplished given both Kramer’s DQ and a surprise defeat in semifinals of the men’s pursuit. The Dutch team turned around in the next race, for the bronze medal, to set an Olympic record.
On the Dutch women's team, Ireen Wust will look to add to her total of three Olympic medals, with her strongest shot at gold likely in the 1,500. Lotte van Beek, 22, has shown signs that she can be the next great women's skater from her skater-rich country.
Not so fast track
Canadian individuals or teams still hold five world records in the sport. Given the fact that Adler Arena is at sea level and not at altitude where air resistance is lighter, there is not expected to be an onslaught of new world records being set at the Sochi competition.
"The nice thing about long track is that it is the same for everybody, so you just go out there, you skate the race and that’s all you can really do," said Bowe. "Just control yourself and everybody is skating on the same surface so the playing field is even."
Olympic long track schedule:
- Saturday, Feb. 8: Men's 5,000
- Sunday, Feb. 9: Women's 3,000
- Monday, Feb. 10: Men's 500
- Tuesday, Feb. 11: Women's 500
- Wednesday, Feb. 12: Men's 1,000
- Thursday, Feb. 13: Women's 1,000
- Saturday, Feb. 15: Men's 1,500
- Sunday, Feb. 16: Women's 1500
- Tuesday, Feb. 18: Men's 10,000
- Wednesday, Feb. 19: Women's 5,000
- Friday Feb. 21: Team pursuit qualification
- Saturday, Feb. 22: Team pursuit semis, final