Japan, Korea continue speedskating winning streaks at Games

Team USA’s Thomas Fitzgerald leads a pack of speedskaters during the men’s speedskating mass start race in Lake Placid on Jan. 20. (News photo — Parker O’Brien)

LAKE PLACID — In the 10 long track speedskating races held during the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Winter World University Games, 10 track records were broken, including the 40.90 500-meter track record set by five-time Olympic gold medalist Bonnie Blair in 1987 and Eric Heiden’s 5,000-meter time broken earlier in the week.

The last few days of the competition, Jan. 18 to 20, included the 500-meter sprint distances, as well as the mixed-gender relay, team pursuit and mass start events. College athletes representing Canada, Japan and Korea continued their race to the top of the podium, while Poland pulled off a stunning victory in the team pursuit event.

Korean skater Minsun Kim broke Blair’s 500-meter track record, which had been standing since 1987, with a time of 38.53. The performance earned her another gold medal.

“I was a bit worried about the wind, but fortunately, during the competition, there wasn’t much wind, so that came with a good result. I thought I could possibly have the track record,” Kim said in a statement. “With the outdoor rink, there are so many unexpected changes to the conditions, so I was not sure about breaking the record. But I broke it, and I’m very happy.”

She was joined on the podium by Moe Kumagai of Japan (39.41) who earned silver, with teammate Park Chaeeun (40.01) securing the bronze.

Team USA’s Anna Quinn ranked the highest, landing in 14th place (41.82). Teammates Libby Williams, Sydney Yu-Terpening and Ilsa Shobe placed 23rd, 26th and 30th, respectively.

After the 500-meter men’s race, Kim won another medal with mixed relay partner Ahn Hyunjun, bringing her medal count to three for this competition and helping Hyunjun win his first medal in the Games. Their time was 3:10.84, approximately 2 seconds faster than that of the second-place team, Japan’s Yuka Takahashi and Kotaro Kasaharo (3:12.03). Spain’s Sara Cabrera and Alexander Rezzonico skated to a bronze finish with a time of 3:12.14, earning the first and only speedskating medal for Spain in the process.

The U.S. team finished in the top five in the mixed-gender relay, scoring 3:13.55 to place fifth.

2022 Olympic 500-meter bronze medalist Wataru Morishige of Japan triumphed easily in the men’s 500-meter race. He also set a new track record with his time of 35.30.

“The 500-meter is my favorite distance,” Morishige said. “I have been working hard to prepare for today’s race, so I’m happy to get the gold medal. “Our team is very young and as captain, I am happy to lead the team and win as well as have my teammate on the podium with me.”

His teammate Kazuya Yamada earned second by less than a hundredth of a second (35.84) and Poland’s Marek Kania claimed third (35.99), finishing visibly thrilled with his results.

American William Gebauer skated an impressive 36.92 time to place 12th in the 500; teammate Thomas Fitzgerald ended up in 24th place.

After a delay due to ice conditions, the team pursuit of women’s and men’s races held the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 18 in light snow conditions was worth the wait. Skating 3200 meters (8 laps) under the bright lights, Japan’s men claimed another gold, while Poland’s women improved upon the track record they set last year at the University Championships.

Motonaga Arito, Yuto Tanigaki, and Kazuya Yamada skated last, and although they didn’t skate as assertively as expected at first, they sped up and set a new track record with a time of 4:07.52, dropping Korea to second place (4:09.62). Canada clinched bronze at 4:11.28.

Poland’s powerful women’s team of Iga Wojtasik, Natalia Jabrzyk and Olga Kaczmarek skated a 3:22.10 time which was over three seconds faster than the time they set in 2022. The team from Korea struggled to keep up but their time of 3:25.35 was good enough for silver; meanwhile, team Japan earned bronze (3:26.82). Team USA glided to 6th place (3:36.49).

Friday, Jan. 20 was the last day of racing, featuring the crowd-pleasing mass start races for both men and women. The start was delayed one hour due to conditions after heavy snow blanketed the track overnight, but snowy conditions didn’t stop favorites Japan and Canada from winning two medals each, with the winners being assisted by their teammates.

Much like short track speedskating, mass start requires not just speed, but strategy. This was evident in the women’s race, in which Japan’s Misaki Shinno and Yuka Takahashi broke away near the end of the race to lead a group through the final 300 meters and rocket from fourth and third, respectively to gold and silver. Shinno’s time of 9:56.42 for the 16-lap race absolutely decimated the previous track record, besting it by almost 23 seconds.

“We were following Korea — Korea’s team is very strong,” Shinno said. “Mass races are very dangerous because of contact and shared position, so we were careful with our pace. It was also important to cooperate with my teammate (Yuka Takahashi). Coming around the backstretch, I thought that I could win. It’s unbelievable.”

Germany’s Josephine Heimerl earned bronze with a time of 9:56.81, while Team USA’s Thalia Staehle placed 20th and Sydney Yu-Terpening landed in 24th place.

In the men’s mass start, David La Rue and Hubert Marcotte worked together to win gold and bronze, securing two more medals for Canada. LaRue skated conservatively mid-pack, waiting until the very end to rocket ahead to victory clocking 8:34.52 and setting the new track record well over the previous time of 9:23.55 set by Japan’s Yuto Tanigaki at last year’s Championships. This was his first gold after winning bronze medals earlier in the week. Marcotte, meanwhile, earned his first medal of the games (8:35.32). Italian Daniele DeStefano picked up his second silver medal, finishing at 8:35.22.

Team USA’s Thomas Fitzgerald hung in with the top 10, coming in 7th at 8:39.13.

Japan finished with the highest medal count in speed skating, clocking 14 total (five gold, six silver and three bronze). Korea finished second with nine total, while Canada’s impressive mass start performance helped them clinch third with six medals overall.

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