Japan’s speed skaters challenge Dutch supremacy
Ireen Wüst led the Dutch charge for gold in the individual women’s speed skating events at PyeongChang 2018, taking her career tally of Olympic medals to 11, a record for both sexes. Japan’s finest matched the Dutch step for step, however, as Nao Kodaira, Nana Takagi and the pursuit team all made visits to the top of the podium.
Achtereekte leads Dutch sweep in 3,000m
The first of the women's speed skating events was the 3,000m, where Carlijn Achtereekte led a clean sweep for the Netherlands, going 0.08 seconds faster than four-time Olympic champion Wüst to claim an unexpected gold, with Antoinette De Jong picking up the bronze. The gold was Achtereekte's first Olympic medal, while silver took Wüst's tally to a record-equalling nine for her discipline.
"It's easier to be one of the first out because you're skating at your own rhythm and you're focusing on yourself," said the new Olympic champion, who skated in the fifth pair, ahead of Wüst. "I just did what I'd planned and skated the way I had to. I've always skated the 5,000m and I've been getting better at the 3,000m and I managed to qualify. I thought I'd have to skate the best race of my life, which I did."
Wüst collects a fifth Olympic crown
Wüst bounced back to win her fifth Olympic gold and record tenth medal in the 1,500m, an event she also won at Vancouver 2010. Japan's Miho Takagi finished two tenths outside the Dutch great's time of one minute, 54.35 seconds to claim silver, while Marrit Leenstra of the Netherlands was nearly a second off the pace in bronze.
Aside from becoming the most decorated speed skater of all time, Wüst, who said she would be retiring after PyeongChang 2018, also moved past Dutch track and field legend Fanny Blankers-Coen as her country's most prolific Olympic gold medallist of all time.
"The bigger the race, the better able I am to get the most out of myself," said Wüst, explaining her enduring recipe for success. "The big races get me more excited than World Cup events. I love skating when it really counts. I never feel scared. I just love it."
Ter Mors strikes in the 1,000m and Japan break new ground
The Dutch flag flew high again in the 1,000m, as Jorien ter Mors secured a third straight women's speed skating gold for the Netherlands at PyeongChang 2018. Joining her on the podium were Japanese duo Kodaira for silver and Miho Takagi for bronze.
A 1,500m gold medallist at Sochi 2014, ter Mors missed out on selection for the event at PyeongChang 2018, having placed fifth in the ever-competitive Dutch trials in December 2017. She made up for that setback in the 1,000m, however, taking the competition lead from compatriot Wüst to set a new Olympic record of one minute, 13.56 seconds, which her Japanese rivals failed to beat - Kodaira finishing 0.26 seconds behind her and Takagi a further 0.16 back. Wüst eventually finished ninth.
Ter Mors also won the short track 3,000m relay bronze, becoming the first athlete to win medals in two different disciplines at the same Winter Games.
"I'm so happy to be here as Olympic champion," said the Dutch skater. "I had a lot of struggles at the beginning of the season and made some changes, which paid off."
Kodaira and Miho Takagi became the first Japanese speed skaters to share an Olympic podium. "The Dutch skaters are still better and stronger than us," Kodaira admitted, "but…we have room to improve and we can challenge them."
Visser maintains Dutch momentum in 5,000m
Esmee Visser of the Netherlands ended Czech skater Martina Sablikova's hopes of winning the 5,000m crown for the third time running. The Dutch athlete's time of six minutes, 50.23 seconds was faster than the defending champion by 1.26 seconds. Completing the podium was Olympic Athlete from Russia Natalie Voronina.
Visser's win, which made it four out of four for the Netherlands in the women's speed skating events, was only the second by a Dutch skater in the 5,000m, following Yvonne Van Gennip's victory in the first running of the event, at Calgary 1988.
Skating in the fourth pair, 22-year-old Visser quickly set a fierce pace that neither Sablikova nor Voronina could match. "I told myself to just enjoy the race, focus on how I skate and what I've done in training, and then anything is possible," said the new Olympic champion. "But I never imagined this."
Sablikova's silver was the sixth of her Olympic career, becoming the first female athlete from her country to win three medals in the same event.
Kodaira scores a first for Japan
Nana Kodaira became the first female Japanese speed skater to win an Olympic gold when she won the 500m. Unbeaten in 15 races in the distance since 2016 – a run that included four World Cup victories in the 2017/18 season – Kodaira set a new Olympic record of 36.94 seconds to depose two-time defending champion Lee Sang-hwa of the Republic of Korea, who had to be content with silver. Karolina Erbanova of the Czech Republic finished a hundredth of a second behind Lee in third.
Kodaira set her time in the 14th of the 16 pairs, alongside Erbanova. Skating in the next pair with Japan's Arisa Go and urged on by the crowd at the Gangneung Oval, Lee failed in her bid to join the USA's Bonnie Blair as a three-time Olympic champion in the event.
"I'm the captain of the Japan team and I know that our compatriots are watching us closely. All I have to do is skate the way I'm supposed to," said the new Olympic champion, who spoke to Lee after the race, with the two skaters raising their national flags together. "Sport can bring the world together as one. It's simple," added Kodaira. "She was under big pressure. She fought well. I told her, 'I still respect you a lot'."
Japan stun Dutch in the pursuit
The world record holders Japan (Ayano Sato, Miho Takagi and Nana Takagi) came from behind to defeat defending champions the Netherlands (Wüst, Leenstra, De Jong) and win team pursuit gold for the very first time, setting a new Olympic record of two minutes, 53.89 seconds. The USA (Heather Bergsma, Brittany Bowe and Mia Manganello) saw off Canada to win a surprise bronze, their only speed skating medal at PyeongChang 2018. Wüst's silver extended her medal collection to a record-breaking 11.
Delighted to pick up a gold to go with her 1,500m silver and 1,000m bronze, Miho Takagi said: "We performed in both our races today just as we'd planned. I'd like to thank my coach for the strategy he put together and my team-mates for skating so well."
Nana Takagi claims inaugural women's mass start gold
Fresh from her team pursuit triumph, Nana Takagi collected a third gold for Japan's female speed skaters at PyeongChang 2018 and wrote her name in sporting history by winning the very first Olympic women's mass start. Takagi topped the podium ahead of reigning world champion Kim Bo-reum of the Republic of Korea and Irene Shouten of the Netherlands.
Estonia's Saskia Alusalu made the early running, winning the first three intermediate sprints to collect the 15 points that helped her finish fourth. Heading into the final lap, Italy's Francesca Lollobrigida put herself in pole position before being overtaken by Takagi, Kim and Shouten, with the Japanese skater crossing the line first.
"Now I've got two golds… I was able to show that the Takagi family name is not all about Miho, but Nana too," said Takagi.