This week's column:
Sept. 19, 2012
Editor's note: This week we dispensed with the usual format and asked Bill to tell us about what happened at the recently completed 2012 World Speed Skating Championships in Italy.
Controversy swirled around this year’s World Championships even before they began. To start with, there was grousing about how long it took the federation to pick a venue. Then, when a venue was finally announced, people complained that the track in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, didn’t conform with federation rules. It was a parabolic track and only five feet wide, not six, which is regulation.
But many of us weren’t worried about the track. We knew from experience that parabolic tracks make for exciting racing because the steep outside edge provides for quick acceleration.
And indeed, there was a lot of great racing on the track this year. One race that stands out is the men’s 15,000-meter elimination. In it, New Zealand’s Peter Michael used the track to perfection to win and set a new world record. First, he cut down the Belgium's Bart Swings and then Italy's Favio Francolini.
That was on Saturday. On Sunday, the three — Michael, Swings and Francolini — renewed their competition in the 10,000-meter points-elimination.
This time Francolini came out on top. Swings was ahead on points with one lap to go. But Francolini caught up by winning the final lap, just ahead of Michael. And that gave Francolini the gold because the final lap serves as the tie-breaker.
The biggest surprise came in the 1000 meters when Colombia’s Andres Munoz, the favorite, failed to advance to the semi-finals. That set up a battle between Peter Michael and Colombia’s Pedro Causil, which Michael won by taking the final turn a bit higher than Causil and then nailing him on the strait-away.
The win earned Michael the overall men’s track championship.
There was also a suprise in the women’s 1000 meters. It was won, easily, by China’s Dan Guo.
Not in the running was Colombian superstar Cecilia Baena. She was disqualified on the second day for, officials said, grabbing a competitor in the 500 meters with two hands and was banned from the remaining track events, although she was allowed to return for the road events and marathon.
One welcome presence at Worlds this year was WADA, the World Anti-doping Agency. On the rest day before the start of road racing, WADA representatives showed up in the early morning at the hotels where the skaters were staying and took blood samples.
Stringent drug testing is overdue in our sport, and speed committee President Roberto Marotta and federation anti-doping representative Patricia Wallace deserve the credit for making it happen.
Rain, the great leveler, plagued this year's road events. But not before records were set in the 200-meter sprint on the slightly downhill course. Argentina’s Victoria Rodriguez's time was 17.594 seconds; Spain’s Joseba Fernandez,15.897.
A new world champion emerged in the 10,000-meter points race: France’s Ewen Fernandez. He finished fourth in the 10,000-meters track elimination.
A few other notable winners on the road include: Holland’s Michael Mulder in the 500 meters and Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida in the 10,000-meter points race. Bart Swings redeemed himself with a win in the 20,000-meter elimination.
The final day of Worlds was the marathon.
In the women’s race, it came down to the field sprint. With 200 meters to go, China's Dan Guo was in the lead but couldn’t hold off the late charge of the Colombian team of five skaters. Just before the finish line, one of the Colombian women nearly had to use a t-stop to slow down enough so that Cecilia Baena could win.
In the men’s marathon, the Colombian team cut off the lane on the last bend, putting teammate Andres Munoz in position for the win. But Swings was too good. He weaved through traffic and sprinted past Munoz to earn his third gold medal of the week.