The stakes could not be higher as the world’s best Short Track Speed Skaters descend on Debrecen, Hungary November 18-21 for the third of this season’s four ISU World Cup Short Track weekends.
There are just two sets of World Cup races left in which to not only secure Olympic Winter Games qualification but also to lay down a marker ahead of Beijing 2022 itself.
Out in front: Hwang Daeheon (KOR) © International Skating Union (ISU)
The overall picture is excitingly blurred with reigning Champions and rising stars of both genders excelling and challenging for their ticket to Beijing.
The Overall World and European 2021 Champion Schulting has grown accustomed to the top step of the podium in recent seasons and the Dutchwoman duly claimed two individual golds in the opening two World Cups. But a crash in the quarterfinals of the 1500m in Beijing (CHN) and the second place she had to settle for in her favored 1000m in Nagoya (JPN) have given the rest of the field hope – something Schulting will no doubt want to snuff out in Debrecen.
Arianna Fontana (ITA) in action at the ISU World Cup in Nagoya (JPN) © International Skating Union (ISU)
Her fellow PyeongChang 2018 champion, Fontana, has placed herself at the top of the 500m rankings in the race for Olympic qualification. But Poland’s Natalia Maliszewska has already given indication that Italy’s eight-time Olympic medalist will not have it all her own way in the sprint. The battle between the two is set to be a highlight in Hungary.
While the USA’s Kristen Santos, who held off Schulting in that 1000m final in Nagoya, will be one of several relatively unheralded names ready to show they belong in the very top bracket, there are a few established stars in need of a strong showing this weekend.
The Republic of Korea’s double PyeongChang 2018 Olympic champion Choi Min Jeong did start the season well, with a bronze medal in the 500m in Beijing, but a knee injury ruled her out of the action in Nagoya and she will be keen to show there is no lasting effect.
Fellow PyeongChang 2018 gold medalist Kim Boutin (CAN) is also yet to hit top gear, although she has shown flashes of her usual excellence and no one will be too surprised should it all come together for her in the Fonix Arena.
Former triple World Champion Elise Christie (GBR) is another looking to rekindle the past. A one-time World No.1, Christie has been beset by difficulties in recent years but has declared this week that she is back and ready to race in Hungary. She has it all to do to secure a fourth successive Olympic appearance.
France, Poland and hosts Hungary are among those who need points in the Women’s 3000m Relay. All three currently sit outside the all-important top eight positions in the rankings.
With each skater’s top three performances across the four World Cups counting towards the Special Olympic Qualification Classifications one great race can make a real difference. That is something a number of the Men’s top skaters will be telling themselves.
In contrast, Ren Ziwei (CHN) and Kazakhstan’s Denis Nikisha are among those who would no doubt be happy if the Beijing Games were next week. Ziwei took gold in the 1000m in Nagoya and lies fourth in the 500m rankings, which are topped by Nikisha after he placed third in the sprint at both opening weekends.
However, even those two have to give way to Hwang Daeheon. The Korean is arguably the world’s form Short Tracker, with two golds, a silver and a bronze already this season. He did have to withdraw from the 1000m quarterfinals on the final day in Nagoya, so it will be interesting to see if there are any lasting effects when he takes to the ice in Debrecen.
Shaolin Sandor Liu (HUN) celebrates victory in the Men's 1000m at the 2020 ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships © International Skating Union (ISU)
Most eyes in the arena however are likely to be on Hungary’s favorite brothers, Shaolin Sandor Liu and Shaoang Liu. The driving force behind the nation’s first-ever Olympic Winter Games gold medal – secured in the Men’s 5000m Relay in 2018 – the brothers have yet to hit full power this season.
But the duo are born showmen and have shown their love of Debrecen before, when they dominated the 2020 European Championships by winning two golds each. So, do not bet against more home heroics when the action gets under way between November 18 to 21. Tune in to isu.org and the SkatingISU YouTube Channel to stay up to date with every twist and turn. If the live stream is not available in your country, take a look at the Where to Watch to find out how you can enjoy this weekend's action.