Heerenveen / Netherlands

Heather Richardson-Bergsma (USA) won the Ladies’ 1500m and took silver in the 500m on the final day of the World Cup in Heerenveen on Saturday. She collected a total of four medals in Thialf Stadium this weekend.

Joey Mantia (USA) finally took 1500m gold after three straight podium places in previous World Cups. Jing Yu (CHN) and Ruslan Murashov (RUS) surprisingly won the Ladies’ and Men’s 500m and the Mass Start golds went to Misaki Oshigiri (JPN) and Arjan Stroetinga (NED).

Ugliest straight leads to beautiful gold
Heather Richardson-Bergsma took revenge for her 1000m defeat by fellow-American Brittany Bowe on Saturday. In another showdown versus her compatriot she exploded from the start and managed to maintain speed into the final lap to finish in 1:55.29. “I kept the 1000m in the back of my head, and I knew that I had speed. I had a good first lap yesterday, it was just the last lap. I really had to open hard and have a good first lap and then I had to hang on. The last straight was probably the ugliest I’ve ever had, but I held on”, she said.

Bowe finished in 1:55.44 to take silver. She stuck with Saturday’s tactics and was not too disappointed about the loss. “If you look at my lap times, my last laps were stonger. I tried to stay with the technique. She (Richardson) had a very fast opener, that made the difference. Of course you always want to win, but it was a good race, tough but good.”

Behind the seventh consecutive 1-2 finish by Richardson and Bowe (no particular order) Marrit Leenstra (NED) took the bronze, her fourth medal this weekend. With 1:56.12 she defeated Martina Sábliková (CZE), who had finished third in two 1500m World Cup races this season. The Czech lady finished fourth in 1:56.72. Leenstra crossed in front of Sábliková on the final crossover. “It was a pity I had to cross in front, because last week in Inzell she was ahead of me on that crossover and I was able to use her. She said sorry afterwards, because she had not been able to help me.”

Richardson joined Bowe on top of the 1500m World Cup ranking. The two American ladies have 360 points. Behind the US couple Leenstra and Sábliková are equal on 250 points.

Phenomenal Mantia takes 1500m gold
The men’s 1500m was exciting as ever. Denis Yuskov (RUS) had won two 1500m World Cup races this season and Kjeld Nuis (NED) one. They both had to settle for less in Heerenveen. Joey Mantia (USA) grabbed his second career World Cup gold when he clocked 1:44.26 in the final pair versus Nuis. He was not surprised. “I knew I was close, I was third twice and second once this season, so I was a little bit angry”, he said. “I attacked the first corner like it was the 1000m, I had a really fast split after the first lap and that gives you some confidence and I just stayed in the groove.”

Nuis couldn’t keep up with his American pair mate.  “I skated a lot against him (Mantia) this season. He was phenomenal today. Usually our openers are equal, my first lap is better, he gets back in the second lap and I can nail it in the final lap. In Salt Lake City I had the advantage of the last inner turn and here it was the other way around.” Nuis had to settle for bronze because his 1:45.33 was not enough to beat Yuskov’s 1:44.38. The Russian thus ran away with silver, which was a slight disappointment. “I thought my 1:44 would be the best, but Joey is a strong boy.”

Peter Michael (NZL) was the only skater to skate a personal best this weekend. He set 1:46.89 (11) in the 1500m.

Despite his two previous 1500m wins Yuskov is only third in the World Cup ranking (280 points). Disqualification in Salt Lake City cost him a lot of points. Mantia now leads the ranking with 320 points, just ten points ahead of Nuis.

Yu back among the top skaters
With this victory I rank among the top skaters again”, Jing Yu (CHN) said after winning the Ladies’ 500m in 37.84. The Chinese sprinter had eight 500m World Cup golds to her tally, but her last win was in March 2012. “After 2014 I seldom skated and I rested a lot”, she explained. In the first Heerenveen 500m on Friday, Yu finished eighth. She had to get used to her new blades: “I adjusted them after the first race.”

Despite her fast time Yu had not expected to win because Sang-Hwa Lee was still up in the final pair. “Only after she finished I realised that I had gold,” said Yu. Lee finished fourth in 37.98. “I broke my lace at the start”, she explained.

Heather Richardson finished second in 37.87 and Hong Zhang (CHN) completed the podium with 37.90. Richardson defeated Lee to add silver to her 1500m gold earlier on Sunday. She was a little surprised: “Lee opened fast, but I was closer than normal, so I thought this is going to be good.” Although it was not good enough for gold, Richardson was satisfied. “It’s been a good weekend for me, I was very tired, but the results are good.”

Lee retained her lead in the 500m World Cup standings with 580 points. Richardson is second with 560 points and Hong Zhang third with 510.

Russian crash and Russian win
Ruslan Murashov surprisingly won the Men’s 500m after his compatriot Pavel Kulizhnikov crashed in the first corner. Starting the weekend as number 15 in the World Cup ranking Murashov started in the fifth pair already, but his 34.67 stayed on top of the board until the end.

Alex Boisvert-Lacroix took silver in 34.76. He faced Kulizhnikov in the final pair and the Canadian was determined to give the world record holder a good fight. “I knew that my strength was in the opener, so I wanted to skate a very good opener and then make use of his draft in the back stretch”, he said. “My opener was very good, my best ever, but then he crashed. My first reaction was disappointment because I lost the advantage of the draft on the crossover. Then I held back a little because I was not sure whether he would hit me and he’s a really big guy, you don’t want to collide with him. When I was clear my coach yelled to relax and I went back into my zone.”

Could Boisvert-Lacroix have beaten Murashov’s time? “I think the crash cost me at least one tenth of a second, so you never know. It was a pity he crashed. I don’t know whether I could have beaten Kulizhnikov, but we could have given the public a good battle.” Kulizhnikov crashed at high speed, but he got away without a scratch. “I don’t know what exactly happened, but I’m okay”, he smiled after the race.

Behind Murashov and Boisvert-Lacroix, Espen Aarnes Hvammen from Norway took his second career World Cup medal with bronze. He was happy to have skated his fastest ever lowland time in 34.86. “I had a perfect first 100m. For me the opener made the difference here”, he said.

Kulizhnikov still leads the World Cup ranking with 505 points, ahead of Alex Boisvert-Lacroix with 425 points and Artur Was (POL) with 358 points. William Dutton dropped to fourth place with 340 points.

Perfect teamwork by Japanese ladies
MisakiOshigiri took her first individual World Cup win when she outsprinted fellow escapee Carien Kleibeuker (NED) on the line after 16 laps. The Dutch lady took silver and Ivanie Blondin (CAN) finished third.

Oshigiri took advantage of a perfectly executed game plan. About four laps from the finish she escaped from the pack with Kleibeuker. “We discussed tactics before the race”, she said. “The Dutch ladies had to chase us. I thought we would get caught but my partner Miho (Takagi) slowed down the group.”

Kleibeuker was in tears after Dutch tactics fell apart. “It would have been much better if we would not have stayed away. I deprived Irene (Schouten) from another victory and that was not my intention”, she said.

Schouten eventually finished eighth. She retained the Mass Start World Cup lead with 316 points, but Blondin came closer. The Canadian now has 300 points. Oshigiri entered the top three with 195 points.

Stroetinga sprints to second season win
The Dutch men worked out their game plan better than their female counterparts and Arjan Stroetinga (NED) ran away with his second Mass Start win of this World Cup season. “I had to stay with Bart Swings (BEL) and wait for the sprint,” he said.

Alexis Contin (FRA) escaped from the pack and skated many laps in a solo breakaway. With Stroetinga in the backseat Swings chased the Frenchman but heading into the final lap Contin was still in front. Jorrit Bergsma (NED) closed the gap to hand his teammate the perfect sprint opportunity. Stroetinga: “That was a good race, wasn’t it? After last week I was really eager to win”, he said.

Fabio Francolini (ITA) sprinted to his second career Mass Start silver. “I really tried to win, but I miss something”, the Italian said. “I was really close, but Stroetinga was very fast. I come from inline skating, in which the corners are different. I have to learn a bit more.” Seung-Hoon Lee (KOR) took the bronze to grab his first Mass Start medal of this season.

Stroetinga leads the Mass Start World Cup ranking with 300 points. Francolini is second with 258 points and Bergsma is third with 232 points.

Grand World Cup
Heather Richardson-Bergsma leads the Ladies’ Grand World Cup with 1020 points. Brittany Bowe is second with 960 points and Sábliková is third with 770 points.

Kjeld Nuis leads the Men’s Grand World Cup with 630 points. Swings is second with 580 and Kulizhnikov is third with 530 points.

After four legs in 2015, the 2015/2016 World Cup resumes with a fifth leg in Stavanger on 29-31 January, to finish with the World Cup final on 11-13 March in Heerenveen.