The fevered crowd packed inside Dordrecht’s Sportboulevard arena got exactly what they wanted at the first time of asking with home-town hero Suzanne Schulting powering to victory in the Ladies 1500m, the first final of the ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships.
Suzanne Schulting laps up the adulation after winning the 1500m 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
The reigning Olympic 1000m champion, who came into this event in scintillating form, did not disappoint her legion of orange-clad fans as she shook off a surprise challenge from the revitalised Elise Christie (GBR) to claim her first ever individual European title.
“I felt in total control. I am really happy with how it went,” said Schulting who has already won four individual World Cup titles this season. “It’s all about the races before. I have skated really well through the first part of this season.”
Christie has only been back in training since July last year following a devastating experience at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Games and she surprised everyone, not least herself, by grabbing the lead with seven laps to go.
“I did not expect to win any medals this weekend. I only found out I was coming not long ago so to pull out a second place is incredible,” said the skater who fell or was disqualified in all three of her races in PyeongChang despite going into the Games as the then reigning 1000m and 1500m world champion and the 500m world record holder.
While Christie admitted that she knew, even while in the lead, that Schulting was destined to win the gold – “Suzanne is the strongest here by quite a bit, we can all see that”– the British skater was delighted by the tactical nous she displayed.
Elise Christie surprised even herself by coming second in 1500m final 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
“When Suzanne came (past) I thought I could fight with her but then I knew I might end up off the podium, so I let her go and thought I would try and stick to her as much as possible,” Christie said. “It was the best tactic, actually I think it was the best 1500m I have ever raced.
“They (her coaching team) said it is the first time I have celebrated a medal in so long – it was nice to be that happy again.”
Russia’s Sofia Prosvirnova, a one-time figure skater, snatched the bronze medal, just ahead of Belgium’s exciting young talent Hanne Desmet.
In contrast to Schulting’s machine-like victory in the 1500m, the second Ladies final of the day, the 500m, highlighted the excitingly wild and unpredictable nature of Short Track.
The Dutch crowd were not alone in expecting a second home triumph, with two of this season’s top performing 500m racers lining up for the final decked in orange. But while Schulting had looked imperious through the 500m heats, a split-second call to try and overtake leader Natalia Maliszewska (POL) on the final bend left her on the ice and teammate Lara van Ruijven floundering in third, with no chance of catching the Pole.
“Lara made a decision to go inside Natalia and I made the decision to go inside Lara and it was the wrong decision,” Schulting said afterwards. “I should have chosen the other way.”
Van Ruijven, who won bronze at PyeongChang 2018 in the Ladies 3000m relay in tandem with Schulting, was admirably philosophical at the setback.
“It’s part of Short Track, unfortunately,” she said. “I was here for gold and it’s bronze. I am happy with my race but I am not happy with the result.”
Natalia Maliszewska on her way to gold in the 500m final 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
None of that should overshadow Maliszewska’s monumental achievement. The 23-year-old, whose sister Patrycja competed in Short Track at the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, won her nation’s first ever individual European Championship gold medal.
“I showed that it is possible, I always think I am able to do the impossible,” said the woman who has won twice at 500m on the World Cup circuit this season. “I always know that skating with the Dutch girls is going to be a tough race. They are fighters till the end. But I try to stay positive and just focus on what I can do the best.”
The fact that her elder sister was present to watch her historical feat made it all the better.
“I am so happy and so grateful that she is here,” Maliszewska said. “She is the one that I have followed; she showed me the road, the way to be a European champion.”
Battle will resume tomorrow with both the Dutch and Polish skaters expecting to be among the medals with the 1000m, 3000m superfinal and the relay finals taking place.
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