Ice Network

Preview of long track speed skating in Sochi

Dutch strong in all disciplines; Davis, Richardson pose best chance for U.S.
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Sven Kramer (center), here with teammates Bob de Jong (left) and and Jorrit Bergsma, leads a dominant Dutch men's team that will be difficult to beat in Sochi. -Getty Images

The long track speed skating races at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games will take place in the Adler Arena, the large 400-meter ice rink in the Coastal Cluster. With six ladies and six men's speed skating events, speed skating is one of the world's most medalled Olympic winter sports, but the race to the podium is fast-paced; a hundredth of a second can separate gold from silver. There are 179 competitors from 23 countries listed.

The schedule is as follows:

Feb. 8: Men's 5,000m
Feb. 9: Ladies 3,000m
Feb. 10: Men's 500m races (two)
Feb. 11: Ladies 500m races (two)
Feb. 12: Men's 1,000m
Feb. 13: Ladies 1,000m
Feb. 15: Men's 1,500m
Feb. 16: Ladies 1,500m
Feb. 18: Men's 10,000m
Feb. 19: Ladies 5,000m
Feb. 21: Team pursuit quarterfinals and men's semifinals
Feb. 22: Team pursuit ladies semifinals and all finals

This Saturday will feature the 5,000 meters, where the Netherlands' Sven Kramer is the absolute favorite for the gold. He will race Jonathan Kuck (USA) in the first pair of the four after the last ice preparation. Kramer hardly ever gets beaten, and he is the Olympic champion from 2010. Patrick Meek is the other American competing in this race. Competition may well come from within the Dutch team, as both Jan Blokhuijsen and Jorrit Bergsma are capable of winning the 5,000 meters. The other medalists from 2010, Seung-Hoon Lee (KOR) and Ivan Skobrev (RUS), are participating again, although in Russia, Denis Yuskov has become the strongest skater.

On Sunday, the ladies will race the 3,000 meters where Jilleanne Rookard is the best of the U.S. skaters. The reigning Olympic champion is Martina Sábliková (CZE). In 2006, a young Ireen Wüst was the champion, and she has proven exceptionally strong this year. Also, Claudia Pechstein (GER) is considered a medal favorite.

In the men's 500 meters Monday, it is harder to predict the podium. 2010 Olympic champion Tae-Bum Mo (KOR) is one of the contenders. Joji Kato and Keiichiro Nagashima (JPN) are usually among the strongest, but World Sprint champion Michel Mulder (NED) and his twin brother, Ronald, as well as Jan Smeekens make the Dutch strong even in this distance. Home favorites are Denis Koval and Dmitrij Lobkov. Then there are Tucker Fredricks and Mitchell Whitmore (USA) and Australian Daniel Greig, who can bring his country the first ever long track speed skating Olympic medal. To win the 500 meters, a skater needs to race the distance twice: once in the inner lane and once in the outer lane, and often, the winner of the first race has a hard time in the second race.

On Tuesday, the ladies skate the 500 meters, and Sang-Hwa Lee (KOR) will defend her title and is the main favorite. Alas, Jing Yu (CHN), World Sprint champion, just announced she cannot skate due to a hip injury. Other likely candidates are Beixing Wang (CHN) and Jenny Wolf (GER), both medallists in the previous Olympics, and home favorite Olga Fatkulina (RUS) should also be watched, just like Heather Richardson (USA).

The day after, the men skate the 1,000 meters. Here, eyes will be on Shani Davis (USA), who is the 2006 and 2010 champion in this distance, but certainly also on world champion Denis Kuzin (KAZ), Alexej Yesin (RUS) and Dutchman Koen Verweij, as well as Davis' countryman, Brian Hansen.

In the ladies 1,000 meters, Richardson is certainly the main favorite, and competition comes from her teammate, world record-holder Brittany Bowe, as well as from the world champion in this distance, Fatkulina, and Hong Zhang (CHN). Christine Nesbitt (CAN) had a poor season but still believes she is on her way back up there. Wüst is always dangerous, even in this distance.

The 1,500 meters, which will take place next weekend on Saturday (men) and Sunday (ladies), is a beautiful distance, where, on fast ice, the sprinters can do well and keep the speed into the last lap, but also the skaters for the longer distance will come forward, with a possible slow start but a fast finish. Among the favorites are Yuskov, Olympic champion Mark Tuitert (NED), Verweij, Davis and Hansen, along with Zbigniew Bródka (POL). Also, allround champion Kramer plans to race this distance, and the two Norwegian skaters, Håvard Bøkko and Sverre Lunde Pedersen. On the ladies day, Wüst will be hard to beat. If the ice is fast, maybe Richardson and Bowe can triumph, but Yekaterina Shikhova (RUS) could also do it. And there is some competition from other Dutch skaters here.

In the men's 10,000 meters, Kramer will be craving redemption after losing the sure gold last time because of a faulty lane-change, allowing Lee to become defender of the title. But Kramer's countrymen, Bergsma and Bob de Jong (2006 Olympic champion), can also top the podium.

Sábliková, the 2010 Olympic champ, is expected to successfully defend her title in the 5,000 meters. Then, in the last days of competition, the Netherlands will want to prove that they are the strongest in the team pursuits. The U.S. team should pose the greatest danger in men's and the Russian team in ladies. The Polish skaters have also performed extremely well as a team.