Shaolin and Shaoang Liu (HUN) brought the opening ISU Short Track World Cup of the 2018/2019 season to a sensational conclusion, inspiring Olympic champions Hungary to a new world record of 6:28.625 in the final of the men’s 5000m relay.
Team Hungary, Team Netherlands and Team Korea 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
But as Shaolin crossed the line to seal victory in a dramatic race – the lead changed hands multiple times over the course of 45 laps – he was perhaps the only man in the stadium unaware of what Hungary had just achieved.
“I didn’t actually realise at first,” said Shaolin. “I was just screaming. I was shouting, ‘Yes baby’, wanting to high-five my coaches, and then I went to hug my brother, and he said, ‘Look at the screen!’ I was like, ‘Oh my god, how did we do that?’”
For both Liu brothers, the record came as a particular shock, because for most of the race they were fighting tooth and nail for the lead with Korea and Netherlands, who took silver and bronze. “I’m so surprised as we didn’t even feel that good in the race,” said Shaolin. “It was a pretty rough race, quite messy with lots of passes. We almost had a fall with 20 laps to go, and I was super worried we were going to end up finishing with just three men.”
Ji Won Park (KOR), Shaoang Liu (HUN) and Ziwei Ren (CHN)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
For Shaoang, the younger Liu brother, the achievement is yet another notch on a burgeoning list of records. “We have an Olympic record as well, and I’d already set a world record previously, but back in the juniors, so it wasn’t that big,” he said. “It’s unbelievable to have done it. The speed was so fast from the beginning, so I was so happy just to have won. But then I saw, ‘World Record’ on the screen and I was just like, ‘Wow!’ I maybe still have another 10 years of skating in my legs, so I hope there are many more records to come.”
It had already been a highly successful day for the brothers. Earlier in the afternoon, Shaoang (pictured below) clinched gold in the men’s 1000m final, having narrowly avoided being taken out in a collision between skaters Hiroki Yokoyama (JPN) and Kim Gun Woo (KOR) in the semi-finals.
Shaoang Liu (HUN)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
“I’m pretty happy with the gold because I’ve been through a lot this weekend,” he said. “I always say that when you’re watching the races on TV, it looks like it’s not that hard to get a gold, but it is. It’s super hard.”
In Sunday’s 500m sprint, Shaolin clinched bronze behind Olympic champion Wu Dajing (CHN) and Abzal Azhgaliyev (KAZ), a medal that came as a huge surprise to him, having spent most of the week battling illness.
“I’m pretty shocked that I got on the podium as I haven’t really trained much this year,” he said. “Plus, I’m not really a 500m skater, as I’ve never been a good starter. I only began training properly two months ago, which is pretty late. It was hard coming back, having won that Olympic gold which was the goal for so long. When you’ve put a goal out there, and you reach it, it’s really hard to find another one. But I’m back now, so everyone, watch out.”
Shaolin Sandor Liu (HUN), Wu Dajing(CHN) and Abzal Azhgaliyev (KAZ)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
So low were Shaolin’s expectations ahead of the 500m final, that he had to ask his brother – who took silver in Saturday’s 500m sprint – to remind him of how much time he had to put his skates on before the A race.
“I’d actually forgotten when I should start putting my boots on,” he said. “I completely forgot how much time you have in the A final.”
Meanwhile, the rest of the skating world was left to ponder how to stop Wu, who won the 500m again with plenty to spare, as well as clinching gold for China in the mixed relay ahead of Netherlands and Korea.
Samuel Girard (CAN), who won Olympic gold in the men’s 1000m at PyeongChang 2018, was among those left trailing in Wu’s wake on Sunday, finishing fourth in the 500m final. But Girard believes there may still be a way to stop the Chinese star.
“I think the key is to try and get in front of him, and cut his speed,” said Girard. “He’s comfortable in front, so maybe if you cut his usual pattern, put him more in danger mode, react mode, he’ll be a bit more nervous and make some errors. That’s what I’ll be working on for next weekend in Salt Lake.”