(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Hiya folks! I hope all is well this fine Sunday morn, well, I hope it’s fine where you are. It’s cold here. Which reminds me: speedskating. Today is the second day of the ISU Speedskating World Cup taking place in Salt Lake City, UT, and since you’re reading this, it’s a safe bet you might be interested in watching the livecast of the event:
Live right HERE.
It also dawned on me as I was reviewing some of the articles about yesterday’s races that there are some really big stories unfolding about which you might not be aware. So, if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to point out three things that I’m watching for that might make your experience of watching the best speedskaters in the world even more enjoyable.
Here’s the lowdown. Today’s event is an ISU long track speedskating world cup. Throughout the season, there are many of these races all over the world. The best skaters in the world compete and the distances raced at each event change. Some are ‘distance’ world cups (1500m races and up), some are ‘sprint’ world cups (500m and 1000m races, sometimes an ‘exhibition’ race, like 100m) and there are ‘combined’ world cups (all skaters, all distances).
This weekend’s world cup is only sprints. Both men and women race a 500m and a 1000m race on Saturday and another 500m and a 1000m on Sunday. Racers are separated into two groups: ‘A’ and ‘B’, with the ‘A’ group comprised of the top 20 skaters in the world in that distance, and the ‘B’ group comprised of everyone else. It’s important to skate well at these events in the same way it’s important to race well every week in NASCAR – the better you do, the more points you get towards the year-end overall world cup title; also winning is awesome and people like you when you do it. However, and this is important to understand before we start talking about today’s races, world cups aren’t as important as World Championships…
Next weekend is the World Sprint Championships. This determines who the overall best sprinter in the world is for the 2011-2012 season. The title is determined by the exact same program as a sprint world cup: i.e. a 500m and 1000m race on Saturday and a 500m and 1000m race on Sunday. The winner is determined by lowest overall time over the four races, with the time in the 1000m being ‘worth’ half as much as the 500m. That is, because the 1000m is twice as long as the 500m, if a skater ‘A’ wins the 500m by one second over skater ‘B’, skater ‘B’ must beat skater ‘A’ by two seconds in the 1000m to tie in the overall.
Got it? Cool. Now let’s look at the three stories (in my opinion) that are the most interesting to watch (for Americans) that are happening ‘behind the scenes’ of today’s world cup.
Tucker on Top (TonT)
Tucker Fredricks is the US’s top 500m skater and has had an awesome year, winning multiple world cup medals, after a having a couple of years where he struggled to find his rhythm and technique. He also is in striking distance of moving from second to first in the overall world cup points total for the 500m. Fredricks is only 27 points behind Korea’s Tae-Bum Mo (445 points for Mo v. 418 for Fredricks).
The world cup points system is a sliding scale based on placement (points for 1st – 10th: 100, 80, 70, 60, 50, 45, 40, 36, 32, 28). Yesterday, Fredricks was 3rd (70 points) in the 500m with a time of 34.45. Mo was 6th (45 points) with a time of 34.51. So, a difference of 6 hundredths of a second over 500m closed the gap by 25 points. With a big race today, Tucker Fredricks could very easily move into the overall world cup lead. Or, because of how close the top several skaters are (both in time and in world cup points) a tiny misstep by Fredricks could bump him out of the top three.
Exciting, huh? In addition to Fredricks and Mo watch: Joji Kato (JPN), Jan Smeekens (NED), Pekka Koskela (FIN), and Keiichiro Nagashima (JPN)
Heather Richardson v. the World (but mostly Christine Nesbitt)
If you look at the world cup points for this season, the US’s Heather Richardson doesn’t look like a big contender for the world sprint title next week, but if you look at her progress over this season, and particularly her last few races, it looks like she has a great shot to stand on the podium. In fact, she might just be the only person in the world who has a shot at challenging Canada’s Christine Nesbitt.
In all honesty, Nesbitt is by far and away the top pick for next weekend’s world sprint title. Nesbitt is undefeated in the 1000m this season, and she is winning by a huge margin over the other women. If you remember the way the overall title sprint title is determined (above), you have to beat another skater by twice as much time in the 1000m to make up a difference in the 500m. Nesbitt is not the best 500m skater in the world (she’s ranked 10th in world cup standings) but she is usually a half second or more faster than everyone in the 1000m.
The best 500m women are, for the most part, not even in the top ten best in 1000m. In plain english: Nesbitt is way better(er) in the 1000m than she is worse(er) in the 500m.
Wait, that wasn’t clear.
Nesbitt beats the world by way more in the 1000m than the world beats her in the 500m? Yeah, that’s right. Man, writing is hard.
However, Heather could have a shot, but it is a long one. Heather Richardson is very close in the 500m to Nesbitt and has beaten her several times in that distance. Yesterday Heather had something of a breakthrough race and was 2nd in the 1000m behind Nesbitt – BUT Heather was a full 6 tenths of a second behind. However, as we’ve mentioned before, Heather had knee surgery just a few months ago and is still getting better every single week.
For today watch: The overall times in both races; also: Sang-Hwa Lee (KOR) in the 500m, Margot Boer (NED), Annette Gerritsen (NED), Jenny Wolf (GER) in the 500m, Ireen Wust (NED) in the 1000m.
Men’s Sprint Overall: I don’t have a clue
There are several guys who are really fast in the 500m, Kato, Fredricks, Smeekens, Nagashima; who aren’t even close in the 1000m; and several guys who are amazing in the 1000m, Shani Davis, Denny Morrison, who aren’t even close in the 500m. Until yesterday, Shani Davis, had really struggled this year. Yesterday however, he won the 1000m in a time that puts him closer to winning an overall title – but it’s far from a sure thing, as he is usually trying to make up a 7-8 tenths of a second loss in the 500m.
There are a few guys, in particular Stefan Groothuis from the Netherlands, and Pekka Koskola from Finland, who are consistenly in the mid 34′s in the 500m and mid-to-low 1:07′s in the 1000m. I’d have to say that these two are really the best picks for winning the overall world title next weekend.
Who to watch today: Really, the top ten guys in both races. Then, pull out a calculator and see who has the best combined time over this weekend’s four races.