POSTED: Monday January 10th 2011

ISU European Speed Skating Championships - Collalbo (ITA)

The ISU European Championships took place in Collalbo, Italy and featured exciting speed skating over the course of three days.

Ivan Skobrev (RUS) and Martina Sáblíková (CZE) have been crowned European Speed Skating Champions of 2011.
The European Championships were back outdoors in the South Tirolean village of Collalbo, Italy, where in 2007 Martina Sáblíková and Sven Kramer (NED) won their first European titles. Sáblíková and Kramer were last year’s champions and Sáblíková was aiming for her third title. Kramer already had four titles in a row, but his absence this year opened the way for other competitors. The men’s event took place over three days, and the ladies started on Saturday with the traditional two-day competition.
2007 and 2010 champion Martina Sáblíková (CZE) was the favourite in the ladies’ competition. Other candidates for the podium were 2008 champion Ireen Wüst (NED) and Dutch champion Marrit Leenstra. Stephanie Beckert (GER), with her impressive long distances, could not compete because of back problems. The former top German ladies have ended their careers and have not been replaced by such strong contenders.
Building on last year’s win, Karolina Erbanová (CZE) won the 500m in a fast 39.29. Yekaterina Shikhova, one of the three fastest Russian ladies, fell on this distance. Leenstra was second with 39.98 and Yekaterina Lobysheva (RUS) took third with 40.13. Of the main favourites for the title, Martina Sáblíková came in fifth with 40.31. This all but secured the title, as Ireen Wüst, normally the better on the short distances, came in sixth with 40.49.
The 3000m was heavy going on the windy track, allowing Norwegian Mari Hemmer to show her strength. Her 4:20.95 stood until Sáblíková skated. The Czech lady, who experienced groin problems as a result of her 500m, showed no weakness in the 3000m and won the distance in 4:11.35. Only three other skaters were faster than Hemmer, and they were all Dutch. Marrit Leenstra was the only skater to finish within 10 seconds of her personal best, and her 4:17.66 earned her a podium place. Diane Valkenburg lost a little to Leenstra and posted 4:19.51. Ireen Wüst started aggressively and needed less time than Sáblíková for the first 2200m, but she too slowed down and was happy to take second place with 4:13.40. In the rankings after the first day, the reigning champion was in the lead with 82.203 points and an advantage over Wüst (82.723 points) of 1.56 second on the 1500m and with her favourite 5000m distance still to go. Leenstra was third with 82.923 points and Jorien Voorhuis (NED), Lobysheva and Valkenburg trailed far behind.
On the 1500m the next day, times well in excess of 2 minutes showed that the going was tough. Julia Skokova (RUS) managed 2:04.85, climbing two places overall and thus qualifying for the final 5000m at the expense of German Jennifer Bay (ninth in the 3000m). Erbanová then took the lead with 2:03.87, with three pairs still to go. Lobysheva lost her pair to Valkenburg, whose 2:01.49 against 2:02.70 put her, asthe other Dutch ladies in the ranking, ahead of the Russian. In the penultimate pair, Leenstra increased her lead, skating 2:00.95; Voorhuis skated 2:02.04. The main duel was in the final pair, where Wüst had to make up 1.56 of a second on Sáblíková. She attacked from the start, using her pair-mate on the crossover to create speed, and with one lap to go had done enough to take the lead. However, in the final lap Sáblíková came back with a 32.2 lap time (against 33.0 for Wüst) and her 2:00.37 earned her Silver for the distance. Wüst won it with 1:59.61, the only time under 2 minutes. The advantage for Sáblíková on the 5000m was still 2.67, and she is Olympic Champion for the distance. Leenstra was third, 9.13 behind Sáblíková, and between Leenstra and Voorhuis and Valkenburg there was more than 15 seconds. For the first time since the European championships for ladies were introduced in 1970, no German skater made the final distance.
The final distance, as expected, didn’t change the order on the overall podium. After her fifth place in the 3000m, Hemmer now finished in 7:26.62 in a good first pair with Austrian Anna Rokita, who made this distance thanks to a seventh place on the 3000m. Rokita had a career-high fifth-place finish with 7:27.40, a worthy achievement for a skater from a small team. Hemmer’s time earned her fourth place and she finished seventh overall, one ahead of her compatriot Ida Njåtun. For the first time, three Norwegian ladies qualified for the World Championships. “All my life I heard I wasn’t good enough,” said Hemmer, “but now we actually start believing that we can do something”. Diane Valkenburg was the first to beat Hemmer’s time and she reached the podium for the distance with 7:24.69. Leenstra’s 7:28 was slower, but she had built enough of an advantage over the first three races to keep the lead in the ranking, with Sáblíková and Wüst still to come. Wüst has been known to start so fast that she struggles to finish the 5000m well, but this time, in spite of an aggressive start and leading the pair for the first part of the race, she managed to keep skating strongly until the end. Wüst finished in second place with 7:18.70 but Sáblíková, whose groin injury did not trouble her at this slower distance, triumphed with 7:07.78, winning both distance and championships. There had been a moment of confusion for Sáblíková: the bell for the last lap rang a lap too early and she thought that she would finish in the wrong lane and be disqualified. Much to her relief, she was made aware that it wasn’t her mistake and that the bell had just rang too soon. “It made me very nervous, but now I am very happy,” she commented afterwards. Wüst had been mourning her poor 500m race, but with hindsight realised that she had needed an impossible time to beat Sáblíková. “All praise to her! I just can’t stand to lose.”
In the men’s championship, there were several strong contenders. Håvard Bøkko (NOR) had often been second best, behind Kramer, but this time the serious competition came from Ivan Skobrev and the Dutch skaters, including national champion Wouter Olde Heuvel and youngsters Koen Verweij and Jan Blokhuijsen. Home favourite Enrico Fabris had back problems and was consequently below par. Two of the debutants in these championships have not been on the ice very long: for Belgian inline world champion Bart Swings, it was only his 9th week skating, and the Frenchman Benjamin Macé only started in October on long track, having participated in the Vancouver Olympics as a short-track skater.
In the 500 meters, seven skaters managed a time below 37 seconds. Poland’s Konrad Niedzwiedzki reached the 500m podium for the 6th European Championship in a row, and won for the third time with 36.04. He was paired with Jan Blokhuijsen, whose 36.33 was the second best time, thus gaining some ground on the best all-round skaters, with Koen Verweij taking third with 36.56. Bøkko with 36.65 and Skobrev with 36.67 also did well, and gained on Olde Heuvel, who managed 37.12. Four skaters improved their personal bests, including Russian Pavel Baynov, who skated 36.96, 18-year-old Junior Sverre Lunde Pedersen, Swings and Macé.
In the 5000m, the times were not as impressive as in the 500m. Sverre Lunde Pedersen had the lead with 6:38.12 when the real favourites started in the last four pairs. The first of them was Skobrev, paired with the Dutchman Renz Rotteveel. Skobrev won with 6:30.01 and Rotteveel managed 6:37.51. Then it was the turn of Fabris and Bøkko. Alas for the Norwegian, he had no help at all from Fabris, as after the opening 200m the latter was left behind, and couldn’t accelerate at the turns. Bøkko lost a little on Skobrev, with 6:32.70, and Fabris made 6:43. Blokhuijsen managed to beat Bøkko’s time and finished in 6:32.21, taking over the lead in the ranking. In the final pair, Verweij was very close to the winner Skobrev, finishing in second with 6:30.49, and Wouter Olde Heuvel with 6:31.14 was third on the distance. It was the first international victory for the Russian. Overall, Blokhuijsen had a very slim lead over Verweij and Skobrev after the first day.
On the second day, the men only skated the 1500m, a very important distance with the ranking as close as it was. Fabris could not impress on the distance at which five years ago he became Olympic Champion. Wouter Olde Heuvel was the first of the five favourites to start. He managed 1:52.72, taking the lead, but then Skobrev and Bøkko skated together. Skobrev had an advantage over Bøkko of 0.75 of a second. Bøkko’s opening 300m was faster than Skobrev, and he gained more time on the first lap, but Skobrev had started carefully and was the only skater who finished with a 29 lap. Bøkko’s 1:52.12 gave him the win on the distance, but thanks to that final lap, Skobrev didn’t lose too much and his 1:52.52 was enough for him to take over the lead in the rankings, as both Blokhuijsen and Verweij lost their small advantage in the final pair (0.36 and 0.18 second respectively). Blokhuijsen finished in 1:52.95 and Verweij in 1:53.07. It brought Olde Heuvel to the distance podium, and Skobrev, silver medallist in the Olympic 10,000m, was in the best position to win.
Yet, it was very close, and there was a difference of only 2.44 in the 10,000 between the first four skaters; with Olde Heuvel in fifth place, ten seconds behind. “Whoever wins the 10,000m will win the title”, said Bøkko at the start of the day. Enrico Fabris withdrew for the last distance. In the 4th pair of the six, Bøkko was paired with Lunde Pedersen. For the 18-year old it was his third 10K ever, and he improved his personal best time with 14:16.16, faster than previously skated in the pairs . Pairmate Bøkko’s laptimes had gradually improved, and he was the first to finish below 14 minutes with 13:51.16. Then came Olde Heuvel and Blokhuijsen. They helped each other, skating side by side for most of the race, fast enough for both to beat Bøkko on the distance and, with a 31.9 final lap for Olde Heuvel, also in the ranking. His time was 13:40.18; with Blokhuijsen in 13:41.44, and he was sure of an overall medal with only Skobrev and Verweij to come. Verweij then stayed a little behind Skobrev during the race, taking care not to help the Russian achieve a faster time. He had hoped to stay with him and escape in the last laps, but that was too ambitious a goal for the 20-year-old Dutchman. Halfway through, Skobrev was so far behind Bøkko that it seemed likely that he wouldn’t even make the podium. But then he began to increase his speed. 21-year-old Blokhuijsen: “For about 8 laps I thought I was the new champion. Then I woke from the dream. But I’m still very happy with what I achieved.” With five laps to go, Skobrev had three-and-a-half seconds to make up to Blokhuijsen, who had finished with a fast 32.5 lap. One lap before the finish, his passing time was the same as Blokhuijsen’s, but his final laps were below 31.0 of a second, and he finally reached 13:39.80, the first Russian European Champion since Dmitrij Shepel in 2001. “With five laps to go, I thought ‘maybe it’s not possible, but I have nothing to lose - go for it.’ I was really tired and Koen didn’t help me at all. It was hard, really”, he said, smiling from ear to ear.
Verweij had quite a good race. His 13:47.79 was enough to send him home with a bronze medal overall.

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Keywords · ISU · International · Skating · Union · Ivan · Skobrev · Martina · Sablikova · European · Speed · Skating · Championships

Name: Selina Vanier
Organization: International Skating Union
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