Mostly thanks to the 500m wins World Allround Champion Ireen Wüst and Koen Verweij (NED) are in the lead after the first day of the ISU European Championships. She faces a tough battle if she wants to be crowned overall winner after four distances on Sunday. Martina Sábliková (CZE) won the 5000m and is within striking distance. With 4,000 spectators in the Uralskaya Molniya indoor rink, the Russian city of Chelyabinsk is the proud host of its first international Championships. Outside it was freezing, inside about 11 degrees. The ice condition was referred to as 'hard', yet there were track records in the longest distances and personal best times in the 500m, three for the ladies Skaters from six different countries made the distance podia.
Wüst won the title three times, Sábliková four times and they were the main contenders for the title from the start. Other favourites for the podium included Dutch skaters Jorien Voorhuis and Linda de Vries, Russian Olga Graf and Julia Skokova and Ida Njåtun from Norway.
In the opening 500m Sáblikova was the first of the favourites 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 500m. Hege Bøkko finished well below 40 seconds but just missed the podium with 39.89, while De Vries with 40.05 sneaked in just before Sábliková.
Wüst said: "It's ok, but I had secretly hoped for a bit more. 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 5000m."
Sábliková: "I am really happy with my 500m, it was my strongest in Europe."
Before the ice preparation break after five pairs into the 3000m, Njåtun was by far the fastest with 4:11.33. After the break, Wüst and Voorhuis both beat 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 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 1500m. De Vries was third in the 3000m 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.
Wüst: "That was a bad 3000m. 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 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 1500m. 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."
De Vries: "Maybe it was cool, but the last two laps weren't so cool. 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 1500m. But I am happy with where I am now and would be really happy to stay here (in third place)."
Sábliková: "I don't think I can beat Ireen, she is pretty fast. 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 1500m, 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 said: "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. I think she will be the champion. The ice is really hard here, I feel really bad after the 3000m and everything just hurts. My coach will try to help me with a good massage."
ISU European Speed Skating Championships – Chelyabinsk (RUS) - Results day 1
1 Ireen Wüst NED 39.24
2 Ida Njåtun NOR 39.66
3 Julia Skokova RUS 39.72
1 Martina Sábliková CZE 4:05.23 TR
2 Ireen Wüst NED 4:07.49
3 Linda de Vries NED 4:07.50
photo Getty Images
photo Getty Images