The first short track World Cup event of the year took place in Beijing, People’s Republic of China from 21 to 24 October, marking the beginning of the short track season. The competition had been highly anticipated by skaters and fans alike and, after pandemic restrictions prevented many teams from Asia from competing in international competitions last season, this was the first true international World Cup event in over a year. The season opener delivered some excellent performances, as some of the biggest names in the sport got a taste of what the Winter Olympic Games Beijing 2022 will have in store for them in 100 days time.
Here's our guide to the things you need to know ahead of the new season.
The women’s favorites: the great return of Fontana and unstoppable Schulting
Olympic veteran Arianna Fontana made a strong comeback to the ice with her second-place finish at the season-opening World Cup event. The PyeongChang 2018 500m Olympic champion has earned a reputation as a formidable sprinter, with one gold, two silver and five bronze medals in her collection. She will be hoping to defend her title in Beijing.
When asked in an interview with the ISU what she would say if someone had told the 15-year-old version of herself that she’d be skating in Beijing, the Italian replied: “That girl wouldn’t believe it. In my mind, I was always going to retire after Sochi 2014 – but here I am!”
Another sprinter to keep an eye on this winter is the Netherlands’ Suzanne Schulting. The Dutch short track star won medals in every individual event at last season’s World Championships, so expectations were high for her on her return to the ice in the season opener. The Olympic 1000m champion didn’t disappoint, winning the 1000m race in Beijing. After her victory, she told the ISU: “I only had one individual World Cup medal before this weekend, so needless to say I’m very happy.”
Traditionally, the Republic of Korea women’s team has been strong a contender for medals, both in individual and relay events. In the first World Cup of the season, Choi Min-jeong (Olympic 1500m champion), Lee Yubin and Kim Yi-joo all made it onto the podium.
The People’s Republic of China women’s team claimed two relay golds on the last day of the season opener, with the women’s 3000m relay triumphing and the 2000m mixed relay team breaking the world record on home ice. The quartet of Kexin Fan, Yihan Guo, Chunyu Qu, and Yuting Zhang will be a strong contender to challenge Republic of Korea for the women’s Olympic relay title next February.
Men’s competition: Shaolin Liu on the hunt for his first individual Olympic medal
Hungarian skaters Shaolin and Shaoang Liu are already history makers, having brought home the first Winter Olympic medal in their nation’s history when they triumphed in the 5,000m relay at PyeongChang 2018. Four years later, the Liu brothers - who have family roots in the People’s Republic of China - will be focused on defending their title and adding individual Olympic medals to their collections.
In an interview with Olympics.com, Shaolin shared his hopes for a home crowd in Beijing. “Hopefully, even if there are Chinese skaters, they will cheer for us the same way they’d be cheering for Chinese skaters. We love our Chinese fans. The older of the two brothers was on top form as he won the 500m event during the first World Cup event of the season.
Russian skater, Semen Elistratov, showed great consistency in the Beijing World Cup event, dominating the 1500m and coming home second in the 1000m - although he did admit that nervousness was a big factor. “You always feel nervous. If someone tells you they are not nervous, it means they are twice as nervous,” he said.
Elistratov’s biggest inspiration, Canadian legend Charles Hamelin, is now 37 years old, however, he proved that age is just a number at the last World Championships by winning an individual medal.
As with the women’s field, the Republic of Korea men’s team continues to be a powerhouse in the sport. The reputation of their athletes was only enhanced after PyeongChang 500m medallist Hwang Dae-heon dominated the 1000m event in the season opener.
2021/2022 Sport Calendar
ISU World Cup Beijing, China
ISU World Cup Nagoya, Japan
ISU World Cup Debrecen, Hungary
ISU World Cup Dordrecht, Netherlands
ISU European Short Track Championships 2022 Dresden, Germany
ISU World Short Track Championships 2022 Montreal, Canada
Information subject to change