Canada's Blondin, Weidemann held off women's speed skating podium
Esmee Visser of the Netherlands ends Martina Sablikova's Olympic title reign
By Doug Harrison, CBC Sports
Canadian speed skater Ivanie Blondin stopped the clock in six minutes 59.38 seconds to finish fifth in the women's 5,000-metre final on Friday at the Olympics in South Korea.
Teammate Isabelle Weidemann was sixth in 6:59.88, while Dutch rookie Esmee Visser ended Martina Sablikova's Olympic title reign with a 6:50.23 clocking.
"I had a sneaking suspicion that she was going to do something big here and she did it," CBC Sports analyst Kristina Groves said of Visser, who broke her own personal best by more than six seconds on Friday. "What a beautiful race that was. She made it look like a cakewalk. She was elegant, smooth and floating across the ice."
'She went for it, skated her own race'
Blondin, meanwhile, already dealt with disappointment Pyeongchang with a sixth-place finish in the 3,000.
"I think she may started a little bit too quick," said Groves of Blondin, who was 14th in the 5,000 at her first Winter Games four years ago in Sochi, Russia. "That last 50 metres she had a bit of a slip. That last lap, unfortunately was 36 [seconds] and she lost a lot of time there.
"She went for it and I think she can be proud of that because she didn't let the nerves get the better of her. She skated her own race. It was a better skate for her than it was in the 3,000 metres and she has to be happy with that."
VIDEO | Ivanie Blondin on her fast start
A year ago, the 27-year-old Blondin won bronze at the same Gangneung Oval on the opening day of the world single-distance championships. She also won silver in the 5,000 at World Cup event in November, clocking 6:57.34 in Stavanger, Norway.
Blondin will turn her focus to the team pursuit, starting Monday, and the Olympic debut of the mass start on Feb. 24. Blondin has won two world medals in the latter event, including gold in 2016.
Weidemann, who was coming off a seventh-place performance in the 3,000, looked composed and relaxed early in Friday's 5,000 and had developed a good rhythm by the midway mark of the race, according to Groves. However, towards the end of the 12 1/2-lap competition, she noted Weidemann had increased her tempo and her stride was getting shorter.
"Her [facial] expression has changed and the pain is starting to come in," Groves said during the race. "You have to fight with good technique until the end.
"I don't think it was the race of her life but it's what she is capable of."
VIDEO | Ivanie Blondin skating for more than just herself
Canada has had success in the women's 5,000 at the Winter Games, with Clara Hughes winning gold in 2006 in Turin, Italy and Cindy Klassen bronze. Hughes also collected bronze at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah and in 2010 at Vancouver.
Visser, 22, joins an elite group including Ireen Wüst as one of the Netherlands' youngest speed skating gold medallists. In 2006, a 19-year-old Wüst became the youngest Dutch Olympic champion in Winter Games history.
At the 2018 European championships in Kolomna, Russia, Visser won the 3,000 in her second-ever international race and sparked talk that an Olympic bronze would be within her reach.
'She has been almost unbeatable in this race throughout her career.' — CBC Sports analyst Kristina Groves on Olympic 5,000m silver medallist Martina Sablikova
With her victory on Friday, the Netherlands has captured six of seven golds so far in speed skating at these Games. Their lone miss was a silver performance in the men's 10,000.
Sablikova, the two-time defending champion from the Czech Republic, took silver in 6:51.85 while World Cup leader Natalia Voronina, competing Olympic Athletes from Russia, was third in 6:53.98.
Since 2007, the 30-year-old Sablikova has won two Olympic golds and nine world titles but on Friday missed a chance to become the third-ever speed skater to win three consecutive gold medals in an event. Germany's Claudia Pechstein is the only woman to accomplish the feat, having prevailed in the 5,000 from 1994 to 2002.
"She has been almost unbeatable in this race throughout her career," Groves said of Sablikova. "She's a little bit like Visser. She's tall, very thin [at five-foot-seven, 120 pounds] but extremely efficient with what she's got."
Earlier this season, Sablikova was hampered by an early-season back injury and wasn't in dominant form in either the 3,000 or 5,000 at the first four World Cups.
Pechstein, 45, was attempting to become the oldest speed skating medallist in history. A three-time champion in the 5,000, she finished eighth.
Still, Pechstein is a nine-time Olympic medallist, one shy of the female Winter Games record shared by cross-country skiers Marit Bjoergen of Norway, Raisa Smetanina of Russia and Stefania Belmondo of Italy.
With files from The Associated Press