Grand slam for Schulting - Debrecen, Hungary
After the wild party for Shaolin Sandor Liu’s 26th birthday on Saturday, with the Hungarian favourite winning the 500m, Sunday was a more subdued affair for the home crowd. Shaolin and his brother Shaoang Liu (HUN) suffered a series of crashes and penalties to leave the locals disappointed.
But in a wide open Men’s field – there is no male equivalent of the all-conquering Suzanne Schulting (NED) – two skaters, Hwang Daeheon (pictured, KOR) and Pascal Dion (CAN), bolstered their reputations further as the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games approach.
Hwang has been a consistent threat in the 500m and 1500m all season, and the 2019 World Champion in the 500m looked at his very best on Saturday.
The Korean secured the 1000m with a cool skate. Dion had taken the lead after three laps and looked a likely winner, but the Canadian ended up wrestling for a line with his teammate Jordan Pierre-Gilles (CAN), allowing Hwang to move up from the back in the final lap.
Dion settled for silver, with the steadily improving Itzak de Laat (NED) taking bronze. Afterwards, everyone seemed just moderately satisfied.
“I was happy to win the gold medal, but I do not think the race was perfect,” said Hwang. “I have a lot of work to do on my conditioning and a lot to improve upon. I have to keep working and get better if I’m going to win more.”
Dion remains narrowly ahead of Hwang in the 1000m rankings, and is relishing the tight level of competition.
“It’s true that we don’t have a Schulting in the Men’s field,” said Dion. “Anything can happen, anyone can makes passes, and that makes it exciting. The races are so tight, but I’m staying consistent.
“It’s hard racing Hwang. You know he is going to go fast at the end. But I got a bit unlucky bumping my teammate at the end. I lost some speed, so maybe without that, I could have won.”
De Laat can also take heart that he can be in the mix for podiums as Beijing looms. “I’m pretty happy,” he said. “In Nagoya and here I’ve been making finals, so I can see it’s not an accident, and in the 1000m I’m doing good.
“I feel better every competition. I usually have a hard time at the start of the season and then improve. So hopefully I can get better again in Dordrecht next week.
“The Men’s field is so open, there are 20 or 30 guys that can make finals. You can win gold or be out in the heats. It’s a real battle.”
Canada seal gold in Relay
Dion’s day improved further as he secured the Men’s 5000m Relay gold alongside Pierre-Gilles, Charles Hamelin and Steven Dubois. The Canadians held off Hwang and the Koreans, who got silver, and Hungary, who took bronze.
Dion was overjoyed at that medal – and now admits that while he initially thought he might just be benefiting from a short burst of good form at the start of the season, he is now right up there with the top contenders.
“It was a great race, and I’ve had five A finals in six races now, so I can see that this is not just luck for me,” said Dion. “I’ve also had four medals in six races. That is kind of fantastic. I am just feeling really good on the ice. The confidence is there, the legs are there, and I know I can race against the best.”
China won the 2000m Mixed Relay, with Canada second and France third. The action moves on to Dordrecht in the Netherlands next week, where the final Olympic places will be won and lost. Hwang and Dion, at least, will know they should be booked on that cherished flight to Beijing.
Grand slam of titles for Schulting
Schulting (NED) completed a remarkable grand slam of titles on Sunday at the ISU World Cup in Debrecen, adding the 1000m gold medal to the 1500m and 500m she had won on Saturday.
Schulting has achieved this feat once before, at the 2021 World Championship in Dordrecht, but this weekend’s performance was possibly even more impressive. Back at that competition, the Korean and Chinese skaters were not participating. In Hungary, she defeated everything the rest of the world could throw at her.
The Netherlands phenomenon then anchored the Women’s team to victory in the 3000m Relay to complete a perfect weekend.
Was this the best she has ever skated? Perhaps, she conceded. “Winning the three races at the World Championships was really special because it was a home crowd and it’s a bigger competition, but this feels kind of the same because it was amazing, and all the world’s best skaters were here,” she said.
In the 1000m the whole field was gunning for Schulting. Maybe anticipating a risky physical battle in the pack, she took to the front mid race and maintained a high tempo.
Courtney Sarault (CAN) skated aggressively and was breathing down her neck, but was eventually penalized for changing line. Natalia Maliszewska (POL) meanwhile, looked like she might make a last-minute pass but was held off.
Choi Min Jeong (KOR) capitalized on the chaos to get silver, with Maliszewska taking bronze.
“The 1000m was crazy,” said Schulting. “I really felt the pressure from behind, it was the same in the semis, I did a great job with the lines. I’m so proud of myself.”
Maliszewska was delighted to get so close to the title. “At the end I was coming up to Suzanne and I thought, ‘oh my God, I’m going to make it,’ but I got bumped a bit. I’m still super happy with the race, though. I’ve trained really hard to get better at this distance, and it is coming together.
“Suzanne is just so good. I love watching her skate. She is a monster on ice. She makes me want to train harder, get stronger, and try to beat her.”
Schulting adds relay glory
Schulting then joined Selma Poutsma, Xandra Velzeboer and Yara van Kerkhof to win the 3000m Relay. Jostling again with Sarault of Canada and the Chinese racers, she held off another frantic assault to secure her fourth gold of the weekend. Canada got silver with China winning bronze.
“It was really amazing,” said Schulting. “We couldn’t finish better and we did an amazing job in the relay, so I’m super proud of the girls.”
She also savored the rowdy Hungarian atmosphere – a real change for a year and a half winning medals in arenas without spectators. “It’s so nice to have a crowd again,” said Schulting.
“There was a bunch of Chinese fans, which is great, and my mum got to come, which is really special, I could wave at her after I won.
“Everyone is so nice, and they were all screaming. To have some interaction with people again is really lovely.”
China won the 2000m Mixed Relay, with Canada second and France third. Next week the action moves to Dordrecht, a rink Schulting knows and loves. It will take something unexpected to stop her from gaining further glory.
Courtesy of the ISU