The Olympic Oval once again became the site of international competition last weekend at the EssentIsu World Cup of Speed Skating. Big names from 20 countries were in attendance, including Canada's premier skaters, such as Olympic medallists Catriona Le May Doan, Susan Auch, and Jeremy Wotherspoon. Also among this highly decorated field, were Steven and Selina Elm and Pete Volcic, who are not only national team members, but University of Calgary students as well.
With a capacity crowd packed into the 3,700 seats in the Oval, the athletes involved certainly didn't disappoint. While mostly sprints were on the docket for Saturday, Canadian superstars preformed marvelously on what is considered the best skating ice in the world.
In typical fashion, the ladies 500m event started with anticipation. With the hometown crowd behind her, Le May Doan skated to a solid performance and a silver medal, just being beaten by her Japanese nemesis Tomomi Okazaki.
Although Le May Doan didn't win the gold, she was optimistic about her performance. "What's exciting, is that I look at my time and I see myself bringing it down once I settle everything down," she said enthusiastically. "This gives me confidence for world championships."
Following the ladies' long track sprints was the Men's division A 500m sprint where U of C student and Red Deer native Jeremy Wotherspoon was the heavy favourite, not only to win gold, but also to beat his current world record time of 34.76. With the stage set, Wotherspoon, and the favourite from Japan, Hiroyasu Shimizu, began their race. As the gun sounded and the race began, Shimizu gave fans a display of his talents by taking the early lead and putting up the fastest 100m in the 500m event. Rounding the first turn, the race was very close until Shimizu took a dramatic spill rounding the corner. Wotherspoon casually finished the race, and ultimately went on to post his fastest time ever--a new world record of 34.63.
After the race, Wotherspoon was very humble about the win which marked his third straight title in the event.
"The most important thing about this win is that it shows that I have been consistent throughout the year. There's always room for improvement. I just don't know how low this time can get."
Following Wotherspoon's lead, was Mike Ireland racing in the last 500m heat of the day, Ireland posted the second best time to take the silver.
Saturday's competition was full of dramatic individual performances that left Canadian team members on the podium three times.
Sunday's early start continued with the men's and women's 1000m sprint followed by the 3000m and 5000m events. Once again, fans were treated to an excellent performance in all the races by some of the best athletes in the world. Results included Wotherspoon capturing his second gold medal in the 1000m and Le May Doan and Susan Auch finishing seventh and 17 respectively. As a result, of the sprint championships Wotherspoon moved into first place overall in both the 500m and 1000m world standings. Le May Doan now sits fourth overall heading into the World Championships.
Sunday afternoon saw the longer events, the 3000m and 5000m, take place. While no Canadians got to the podium, an almost sold-out crowd was treated to some solid performances, not only from Canadian athletes, but also the other competitors involved. Steve and Selena Elm both finished their races with respectable times in their events and no doubt will be looking forward to future competition.
Many athletes at this event displayed solid and commendable performances. As anticipated by fans and enthusiasts alike, last weekend's world cup of speed skating was a meet that saw both records and skaters fall in dramatic style. Next stop for the Canadian athletes is Seoul, South Korea, for the World Championships in four weeks.