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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 in-line skater 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.

Ladies
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 Anni Friesinger (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.

Men
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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