Ice Network

Wüst out in front at 2015 European Championships

Verweij holds lead over Kramer; Sábliková within striking distance
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The Netherlands' Ireen Wüst continued her dominance in the 500 meters this season, clinching gold with a time of 39.24. -Getty Images

Mostly thanks to their 500 meters wins, World Allround Champions Ireen Wüst and Koen Verweij of the Netherlands are in the lead after the first day of the 2015 European Speed Skating Championships. They both face a tough battle if they want to be crowned overall winners after four distances on Sunday. The Czech Republic's Martina Sábliková and the Netherlands' Sven Kramer won the 5,000 meters and they are within striking distance.

Ladies

Wüst has won the title three times, with Sábliková winning four times and they were the main contenders for the title from the start. Other favorites for the podium included Dutch skaters Jorien Voorhuis and Linda de Vries, Russian Olga Graf and Julia Skokova and Ida Njåtun from Norway.

500m

In the opening 500 meters, Sáblikova was the first of the favorites to race and she started very strong. She set her fastest career time outside the high altitude rink in Calgary: a very relaxed 40.06. Voorhuis was a bit less relaxed and less happy with her 40.11. Wüst and Skokova faced each other, and the title defender had the fastest opener: 10.92. She made use of Skokova's draft on the crossing, and though she could not increase her speed through the last inner, her 39.24 was by far the fastest time. Skokova finished third in 39.72. Olga Graf stopped the clock at 40.60, but her pair mate Ida Njåtun surprised with a strong 39.66 to take second place in the 500 meters. Hege Bøkko finished below 40 seconds but just missed the podium with 39.89, while De Vries' 40.05 came in just before Sábliková.

"It's ok, but I had secretly hoped for a bit more," Wüst said. "I skated a bad second inner. The turns are less wide here. I need to build in the first three distances to get a margin in the 5,000 meters."

"I am really happy with my 500 meters," Sábliková said. "It was my strongest in Europe."

3,000m

Before the ice preparation break after five pairs into the 3,000 meters, Njåtun was by far the fastest with 4:11.33. After the break, Wüst and Voorhuis each topped that time. Where Njåtun had trouble in the final two laps, the Dutch ladies continued a bit stronger. With 4:07.49, Wüst missed the track record she had hoped for and with 4:10.94, Voorhuis could not pass Njåtun in the ranking.

In the next pair, De Vries was faster than Wüst. She managed to hold on to faster lap times for more than half of the race, but lost her advantage in the final lap, finishing 0.01 behind Wüst in 4:07.50. In the final pair, Sábliková showed the best stamina. With lap times gradually going up from 31.3 to 33.0, she was below her former track record (4:06) all the way, and she finished in 4:05.23 to pass De Vries and climb to second place in the classification with 80.931 points. Her pair mate Graf missed the podium and was fourth with 4:08.93.

Wüst is in the lead with 80.488 points. She has a 1.33 second gap to Sábliková in the 1,500 meters. De Vries was third in the 3000 meters and thus climbed to third place in the samalog with 81.300 points, ahead of Njåtun with 81.548 and Skokova with 81.890. Voorhuis and Graf are sixth and seventh.

"That was a bad 3,000 meters," Wüst said. "It's a bummer. I tried to reach a good speed but when I had it I couldn't keep it. It was up and down. In hindsight, the damage is fairly limited. I thought Sáblikova might do a 4:02 after I finished. I don't know what the reason was for my poor race. Technically, I skated too much on the front of the blade. Luckily, the winner is decided after four distances and I just have to skate a very strong 1,500 meters. It's always hard work even though people may think it comes easy. I'm angry and disappointed with myself because it wasn't necessary. Yet, I'm still in first place and I want to keep it that way."

"Maybe it was cool, but the last two laps weren't so cool," de Vries said. "When I discovered, pretty late, that it was that close, I really regretted those final laps. The conditions are unfamiliar and tough when you start fast. It's good, but more seems impossible as Sábliková is really strong. Sábliková can do everything pretty well, including the 1,500m. But I am happy with where I am now and would be really happy to stay here (in third place)."

"I don't think I can beat Ireen, she is pretty fast," Sábliková said. "I hope I can get a medal. This is the big point for me. For sure, I will fight and give what I have but I don't think about first place. I don't have too many plans for the 1,500 meters, just try to go as fast as I can and then we will see the time." 

On whether she thought Wüst's performance was a bit disappointing, Sábliková was up front.

"I don't know her plans for the season, maybe she is mainly concentrating on the World Championships in Heerenveen, but we will see tomorrow," Sábliková said. "I think she will be the champion. The ice is really hard here, I feel really bad after the 3.000 meters and everything just hurts. My coach will try to help me with a good massage."

Men's

Kramer is the main favorite as six-time European Champion in the men's tournament. The other two main contenders are Verweij and Wouter Olde Heuvel. In Kramer's absence, Verweij took the World Allround title last year. Olde Heuvel had his best season in a long time and finished second, ahead of Verweij at the Dutch Championships. Other contenders are Sverre Lunde Pedersen and Håvard Bøkko from Norway, Belgian Bart Swings and Russian Denis Yuskov.

500m

The men's tournament started without Sweden's Nils van der Poel. The talented Swede was ill and taken to the hospital. Harald Silovs therefore skated alone in the second pair, and in spite of a poor opening, the Latvian set 36.79 with a strong lap.

In pair five, Poland's Jan Szymanski had an equally strong lap, but a much better opening and he proved to be a force to be reckoned with when he set 36.47. He perfectly followed the Polish tradition of reaching the 500-meters podium, in spite of Bródka and Niedzwiedski absences.

Only two skaters were faster than Szymanski: Sweden's Verweij and David Andersson. Verweij won the 500 meters in 36.20, with a 25.9 final lap. His pair mate, Norway's Simen Spieler Nilsen, set 36.73. Sweden's Andersson defeated Bøkko with 36.27 versus 36.54 in the final pair and thus secured second place in the 500 meters.

Kramer set a disappointing 37.03, losing his pair to Lunde Pedersen who finished in 36.88. Yuskov finished in 36.49 and Olde Heuvel in 36.85.

"The opening was ok, but the first turn and the crossover were not good," Kramer said. "I don't know why. It's disappointing for sure. The gap with Olde Heuvel is ok, but the gap with Koen is too big. It's not that I cannot close it, but it shouldn't be there. Pedersen is also a bit ahead of me. I need to go flat out in the 5,000 meters."

"36.2 was a good time in spite of the poor opening," Verweij said. "It could have been much faster. I am satisfied when I compare myself to others. But I don't think Kramer needs to worry if you look at my times in the 5,000 meters this season. At least I am paired with a great skater: Wouter. I am not here to win, but to improve. I'm going to fight for sure. With a solid 5,000 meters and a great 1,500 meters I can get close."

"Sven has a high level this season, so it will be hard, but I will go full pace in each distance, a realistic goal is to be second or third," Swings said.

5,000m

Halfway through the 5,000 meters, Harald Silovs was in the lead. The Latvian skated an even race with laps between 30.5 and 31.5. Whereas many skaters found the second half of the race really tough, Silovs' slowest lap times were in the first part of the race. Silovs adapted well to the tough conditions and finished in 6:31.68 to take top spot in the ranking with 75.958 points. David Andersson, who was second in the 500 meters, made a free fall in the classification after a painful race in 7:19.90.

In the first pair after the ice preparation, Denis Yuskov beat both the time and ranking of Silovs with 6:27.43 and 75.233 points in the classification. Swings started faster than Yuskov, but could not keep that speed in the final three laps. Still he had enough left in the tank to top Yuskov's time with 6:26.42. With 75.702 points, he did not pass Yuskov in the ranking, however. Bøkko set 6:33.97 and dropped behind Yuskov and Swings with 75.937 points. Szymanski dropped to ninth in the ranking with 76.119 points after 6:36.49 in the 5,000 meters.

The main competition was between the Dutch trio. Verweij was paired with Olde Heuvel and started as the brave attacker. He was the only one in the entire field to set a 28.8 lap and he kept Olde Heuvel behind until the final 1,000 meters. Then his lap times dropped, and Olde Heuvel went on with laps of 30 while Verweij managed to keep them under 31.5. Olde Heuvel eventually won the race with 6:22.32 and Verweij finished in 6:23.86, beyond expectation.

Kramer would need to better Bergsma's 2011 track record to close the gap of 8.3 seconds. He started fast and had a race of mainly 29 laps. Despite a couple of slower laps, Kramer brought the track record down to 6:17.32. His pair mate, Lunde Pedersen, skated an extremely even race with mostly 30.2 laps, struggling a bit in the final lap, and reaching the podium with 6:22.89.

In the ranking, Verweij kept the lead with 74.586 points. Kramer is second with 74.762, Olde Heuvel third with 75.082 and Lunde Pedersen fourth with 75.178. Yuskov and Swings are fifth and sixth, respectively.

"It was a good race. I just wanted to start fast, see where it would bring me and I could keep it up well," Verweij said. "I made a nice difference in the 500 meters and after that it was up to me to attack. We still have the 10k to go. Of course I expect to beat Sven in the 1,500 meters, but I need to recover well tonight. Tomorrow I need to try and get Sven lost in the 1,500 meters and then see what I can do in the 10. I am not going to give it away just like that. I am a racer and Sven Kramer is beatable."

"It was a good race, but I wanted to be a bit faster at the end, however, the conditions were hard," Kramer said. I couldn't stand it. 37.0 was not sharp enough."

About Verweij having an advantage of 0.53 in the 1,500 meters: "I don't know if I need to fear him. I do not underestimate Koen. You need to deal with the conditions. I just want to win."

"I will for sure try and go for the podium," Lunde Pedersen said. "Nobody wants the fourth place. It will be hard, but I'm going to focus on good skating and races, and then we will see afterwards. Yes, I am happy with today's races, not super, but still good. Some tenths too slow on the 500."

About his final lap costing him the second place in the 5,000 meters: "I was almost done after ten laps so it was hard to keep it up."