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World All-Around Ice Speed Championships
February 2004 in Hamar, Norway
Surprises, drama and excellent performances marked this yearís
edition of the World Allround Speed Skating Championships, held
at the Viking Ship hall at Hamar, almost ten years to the day
after this venue was the centre of attention during the Olympic
Games of 1994. Both the menís and ladiesí classes were decided
virtually on the last few laps of the final pair, showing the
magic of allround championships in general and the excitement
of this yearís edition in particular.
Team USA Takes 1st and 2nd
The Dutch dominance in the menís class was broken by former
Chad Hedrick, who became the first allround
champion from the United States since Eric Flaim won the title in 1988. His teammate
Shani Davis finished second, the first time the USA has captured
the two top places. The Dutch made up for whatever disappointment
this may have caused, by bringing home a victory in the ladiesí
class instead, the first in 30 years.
This yearís champion was
Renate Groenewold, coming back from a
disappointing performance in last yearís championships in Gothenburg
where she was ill. The 2003 champion, Cindy Klassen (CAN), was
missing through injury, while the main favorite
(GER) had to withdraw after three distances because of illness.
For the third year in a row at this event, the ladiesí 500m was
won by Jennifer Rodriguez (USA). The two other podium places went
to Anni Friesinger of Germany and Wieteke Cramer of the Netherlands.
Renate Groenewold won the 3000m, while her teammate, long-distance
expert Gretha Smit took second with a personal best. German Claudia
Pechstein captured third place on the distance while Friesinger took
the overall lead after the first day, ahead of Cramer, Pechstein,
Groenewold and Rodriguez.
Rodriguez took her second distance win of these championships on
the 1500m, narrowly ahead of Groenewold who beat Pechstein in an
exciting pair. It turned out to be good enough for podium places for
both of them, as favorite Friesinger tired badly and could only finish
fourth. Though Friesinger retained her overall lead, her performance
was indicative of the problems which led to her surprise withdrawal
from the final distance. Her coach Eicher explained that she had been
ill for five days after returning from Nagano and was ill on Saturday.
Although it was a hard decision to make, he felt confident that it had
been right to withdraw her from the competition.
The battle for the title thus turned into an all-out contest in the
final 5000m pair between Groenewold and Pechstein. For a long time
they stayed close, but with three laps left Groenewold made a surge
which Pechstein could not resist. Groenewoldís strong finish gave
her silver on the distance. A miss-stroke brought on by fatigue
settled the fate of Pechstein who gained her seventh overall silver
medal in the championships, and her ninth podium place in a row.
Very even performances on all distances helped Wieteke Cramer to
bronze overall. Gretha Smit and Clara Hughes of Canada took gold
and bronze on the distance.
Asked whether she deliberately had saved something for the finish,
Groenewold said she had "pain in my legs since the fourth lap. But
we all have pain, I thought, so I have to go through with this".
Her time was a personal best, which is testament to the effort she
made when the situation demanded it. Her point score of 162,573
was also a Dutch national record.
In the menís field, European champion Mark Tuitert entered the
competition as one of the main favorites. In Hamar he was expected
to be challenged mainly by his Dutch teammates and by a strong US
team, as well as by Russians Lalenkov and Skobrev.
It was precisely these three nations that completed the podium on a
500m with a very high level, with twelve skaters below 37 seconds.
And for the first time in the World Allround Championships, the
36-second barrier was also broken, as Yevgeny Lalenkov brought the
championship record down to 35.78. He won the distance ahead of
Mark Tuitert (NED) and Shani Davis (USA) - the latter despite
suffering a miss-stroke in the final inner turn. A more serious
miss-stroke ruined the chances of Norwegian home favorite Eskil
Ervik, who finished last. Among those who also positioned themselves
well for a good overall finish were Chad Hedrick (USA) and
Enrico Fabris (ITA), while European Championship medalists
Uytdehaage and Verheijen were a little disappointed.
Verheijen made good again by winning the 5000m in a new championship
record of 6:20.61, but the rest of the podium was more surprising.
Only eight hundredths behind Verheijen came Chad Hedrick (USA),
while Enrico Fabris (ITA) was third, beating the national record
of Roberto Sighel. The first to beat the old championship record was
Shani Davis with 6:24.00. This eventually gave him a fourth place on
the distance, and overall after the first day the two Americans
Hedrick and Davis were in the lead ahead of Tuitert.
No less than thirteen skaters set personal bests on the 5000m. Drama
arose when the jury had to disqualify former World champion Jochem
Uytdehaage before the second day after he was found to have made
an attempt at drafting Verheijen from the warm-up lane during part
of a lap in the 5000m race.
Just as in the womenís class, an American skater won the 1500m -
in fact, all four of their skaters were among the eight best on the
distance, and two of them made the podium. The new championship
record and track record at Hamar is 1:46.02 and belongs to Shani
Davis. Mark Tuitert took second place on the distance ahead of
reigning Olympic champion Derek Parra (USA). Their strong 1500m
gave Davis and Tuitert first and second place overall, with
Hedrick in third. Tuitert had 7.34 seconds to make up on Davis,
while Hedrick was 9.3 seconds behind.
The times of Verheijen and Hedrick on the 10000m were good enough
for the two first places, and Hedrick also set a world record in
overall points. His time was also a US record. This proved too
much of a challenge for Davis, who still skated strongly and secured
second place overall. Verheijenís championship record on the
10000m brought him to third place overall, and up-and-coming
Italian Enrico Fabris also passed Tuitert in the final standings
by virtue of his third place on the 10000m. That Tuitert could
only finish fifth despite beating his own recent world record in
points shows the very high level of the competition.
Statistics: WR points men; 4 NRs men: Italy, China (2) and the USA;
35 personal bests men, 22 personal bests ladies. No falls. Track
records were broken in the menís 1500m and 10000m, and all winning
times in the menís class were championship records. Eriko Ishino
(JAP) set a junior world record on the 3000m, with a time of 4:09.26.
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