Republic of Korea dominate on final day of speed skating action

Picture by Jed Leicester YIS/IOC

The speed skating competitions at Hamar come to a close on Friday, with Republic of Korea’s Kim Min Seok and Park Ji Woo winning respective gold medals in the men’s and women’s mass start events.

Present on the Olympic Winter Games programme just the once, at Lake Placid 1932, the mass start was making its second YOG appearance at Lillehammer 2016, having also graced the schedule at Innsbruck 2012.

A spectacular ten-lap event in which tactical nous and flexibility is a must, the mass start brings together sprint and long-distance specialists and the sport’s all-rounders.

Races usually follow the same pattern, with skaters bunching together at the start, the pace quickening on lap five, which is a sprint lap (with points being awarded to the three leading skaters), and the field then stringing out on the final two laps as the leaders fight it out for the medals.

Tactics and race plans have a big part to play in the mass start, with physical contact – both intentional and accidental – all part of the spectacle.

Contested by 26 and 25 skaters respectively, Friday’s men’s and women’s races at the Hamar Olympic Hall produced no shortage of typically exciting mass-start action.

In the men’s race, Republic of Korea duo Kim Min Seok and Jae Woong Chung were tucked in the pack on the opening laps, and lay 14th and 10th respectively when Belarus’ Yevgeny Bolgov crossed the line first at the end of the sprint lap.

Having already medalled at Lillehammer (Kim taking gold in the 1,500m and Chung collecting bronze in the 500m and gold in the mixed NOC team sprint), the pair levered themselves into medal contention on the closing laps, though not without a scare or two, as Kim confirmed: “At one point I thought I was going to fall down.”

The brilliant Kim kept his footing, however, and powered his way to a second gold in the final sprint, edging out his compatriot by a skate’s length.

Taking third place just behind the flying Koreans was Norway’s Allan Dahl Johansson, with Bolgov, trailing in 1.49 seconds adrift in fourth.

Park wins by a nose

The women’s race followed much the same pattern, with the leaders at the halfway stage failing to make the podium, which was topped by 1,500m gold medallist Park Ji Woo of Republic of Korea, who surged up from the back of the pack to beat China’s Han Mei in a photo finish.

It was the Chinese skater’s third silver of Lillehammer 2016 following her second places in the 500m and the 1,500m. The bronze went to Park’s compatriot Kim Min Sun, the winner of 500m gold earlier in the week.

“This is my first ever mass start and I learned so much,’’ said Norway’s Camilla Wangen Evjevik, who came home 19th. “There was a lot of fighting in the pack, lots of it. I was surprised. I learned not to be so shy next time.”

Friday’s mass start double wrapped up a hugely productive few days for Republic of Korea’s speed skaters, whose dominance at Lillehammer 2016 was such that they took every individual women’s title and missed on just the one individual men’s gold, the 500m.