Our Olympic Oval was buzzing Mar. 18-19 as the International Skating Union All-Round World Speed Skating Championship took place. There were crashes, disqualifications, cheering fans and new world records. Athletes panted in pain and savoured their victories. The international event saw the Dutch in a sea of orange while the Norwegians cheered with spontaneous 'festive' sing-alongs. It was truly an epic weekend.
The all-round championship is a unique competition. It takes the top 24 male and female athletes and has every athlete race three different distances (four distances for the top 12). If you're new to speed skating, this is like putting a marathon runner in the 100-metre dash and vice versa. The winner is the athlete with the lowest time after all four races.
The competition started off with a bang (literally), as the females took to the ice in the 500-metre race. Canada's own Cindy Klassen took first with a 37.51-second time. Yekaterina Lobysheva of Russia and Kristina Groves of Canada skated into a second-place tie in 38.75 seconds. Interestingly, Klassen didn't even compete in the 500-metre race in the 2006 Torino Winter Olympic Games as she specializes in the 1500-metre.
The men were next on the ice, again with the 500-metre race. Shani Davis, an American racer who proudly trains at the Olympic Oval, won this event with a 35.17-second time. Kondrad Niedzwiedzki of Poland came in second 0.03 seconds behind with Chad Hendrick of the U.S.A. edging out Canadian Denny Morrison by one-hundredth of a second for the bronze. Steven Elm of Canada came in fifth.
The 3,000-metre race for the females was the determining factor to see which racers would compete Sunday in the 5,000-metre race. This race allowed 12 racers to continue their pursuit of the all-round championship. Again, Klassen took the event--and a new world record--with a time of 3:53.34. She killed the silver medalist, Claudia Pechstein of Germany, by over four seconds. Groves again represented Canada with pride, coming in third with a time of 3:59.46.
The day came to a close as the men skated around the Oval for the 5,000-metre race. The Dutch were so obviously proud of their young Sven Kramer as he took gold in 6:09.97 just in front of Hendrick. The race came down to one-hundredth of a second. Italy's new-found Torino superstar, Enrico Fabris, came in third, narrowly beating out Davis.
On Sunday it seemed as if Klassen just liked it on top. She again finished first in the 1,500-metre race. She missed beating her own world record by 0.06 seconds, coming in at 1:51.85. Ireen Wust of the Netherlands came in 2.18 seconds later followed by Groves, who continued to prove her diverse ability in skating different distances and consistently making the podium. Pechstein followed in fourth.
The men were then up for the 1,500-metre race, putting Davis and Hendrick face to face. Davis slid right by Hendrick in this race, coming first with a time of 1:42.68 and beating Hendrick's previous world-record. Hendrick did receive second and Morrison had the last podium finish. Italy's superstar came fourth.
Finally, the last of the women's races in two days had arrived. The young Martina Sablikova of Czechoslovakia wowed crowds with her second place finish in 6:50.45, followed by Pechstein with 6:51.11, who was the silver medalist for the championship. Groves placed fourth in 6:54.55, securing her a bronze medal. Klassen took this final event in 6:48.97 and the championship with a four-race sweep. Morrison thinks that Klassen is at the top of her game, and no one can refute that. With her amazing five-medal finish from the Olympics and her stellar performance in the Oval, she is truly an incredible and talented athlete at 24 years of age.
The men would be the last skaters Sunday evening, finishing with the demanding 10,000-metre race. Kramer finished first with a new world record of 12:51.60. Two Norwegians, Oystien Grodum and Lasse Saetre would come in second and third, respectively, giving the dedicated European fans something to roar about! Hendrick unfortunately "got bored" and accidentally disqualified in this race, missing the first marker on his transition into the outer lane. This DQ took him out of the running for all-round world champ, a triumph he held two years ago.
Davis took the gold medal as the world all-round champion, followed by Italy's Fabris and the Netherland's Kramer.