Michael Issakidis/the Gauntlet

World Cup speed skating hits the Oval

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On Jan. 19 and 20, Calgary’s Olympic Oval hosted the exciting, world-class speed skating World Cup. Skaters from around the world competed in front of a sizable crowd in what was the last race prior to the World Sprint Championships on Jan 26. and 27. 

The race was a part of the International Skating Union’s World Cup, a series of races held during the winter around the world. Skaters earn points towards World Cup standings based on their performance in each individual race. 

In addition to the World Cup races, there are also international events held during the year. The 500- and 1000-metre distances — the sprint distances — were the events hosted in Calgary. 

The World Cup event in Calgary was good preparation for the Sprint Championships being held in Salt Lake City on Jan. 26 and 27. 

The Canadian team had a strong showing on the first day of competition with Jamie Gregg winning the bronze in the 500 metres and Christine Nesbitt taking home the silver in the 1000 metres. 

Nesbitt, who won gold in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and is the world record holder in the 1000 metres, did not race Sunday, but managed to set a seasonal best in her silver medal-winning performance on the first day of racing.

“I feel like every race has been getting better. It’s the fastest I’ve gone this year by over a second so I just feel like it’s going in the right direction as I focus on World Championships,” said Nesbitt.

The 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia are approaching at the end of the World Cup season, which makes these races important preparation for the athletes.

“My ultimate goal is to perform to the best of my ability in Sochi and that takes all the mental and technical preparation starting right now,” said Nesbitt.

The notoriously fast Oval ice allowed many skaters to achieve personal bests as well as national records. There was even one world record set in the women’s 500-metre race by Korean skater Sang-Hwa Lee, who set the new mark at 36.80 seconds. Lee took the gold both days while Dutch skater Jan Smeekens swept the men’s 500-metre competition.

While no Canadians made it onto the podium Sunday, there were still plenty of reasons for Canadians to be optimistic. Tyler Derraugh finished just two-10ths of a second away from winning his first ever medal in the 1000 metres.

Derraugh was pleased with his weekend after Sunday’s race.

“It was definitely a breakthrough. It was a huge improvement. I was fourth earlier this year so I knew I could be up there but doing it on the fast ice in Calgary was a big deal for me,” said Derraugh.

The Winnipeg native comes from a sporting background with both parents having competed internationally in speed skating. His father competed at the 1968 Winter Olympics and Derraugh’s brother is a Paralympic downhill skier who has won multiple gold medals for Canada. 

“He’s been competing at a high level for a long time and seeing his results and seeing him achieve some gold medals is really inspiring for me,” said Derraugh of his brother, Chris Williamson.

Gregg, the other Canadian to medal on Saturday, set a personal best on his way to the bronze in the 500 metres. However, Gregg had a disappointing second day of racing as he finished 13th in the 1000 metres and dropped from third on Saturday down to 17th on Sunday in the 500 metres.

While the Canadians did not exactly own the podium last weekend, there were personal bests and significant improvements made by members of the Canadian team. The ISU World Cup races and championships are important in their own right, but are the prologue for the 2014 Sochi games and the Canadian team is looking to keep improving with that goal in mind.