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Speedskaters go for Allround worlds on open-air oval

March 9, 2018

Gabriele Hirschbichler of Germany, left, and Ireen Wust of The Netherlands compete during the women's 500 meters race at the World Championships Speedskating Allround in the Olympic stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Friday, March 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

AMSTERDAM (AP) — A week ago, Amsterdam residents and visiting tourists were walking and skating along frozen canals in the Dutch capital.

On Friday, elite speedskaters were doing laps of a man-made outdoor track in streaming rain in the city’s Olympic Stadium.

For the first time since 2001, the three-day speedskating Allround World Championships are being held on an outdoor track, a temporary oval at the stadium which hosted the 1928 Summer Olympics.

The Dutch were expected to dominate. Sven Kramer, the Olympic 5,000-meter champion from Pyeongchang, is the three-time defending men’s champion and is looking to win his 10th title. Pyeongchang 1,500-meter gold medal winner and defending champion Ireen Wust was aiming for her seventh title.

But she got off to a bad start in the 500 meters on a rainy night, trailing in ninth place, 1.8 seconds behind winner Miho Takagi, who crossed the line in 39.01 seconds. Gabriele Hirschbichler of Germany was second and Ayaka Kikuchi finished third.

Takagi skated in the second pair and Wust in the last, after rain had degraded the ice.

“It’s outdoor skating, and that means dealing with the weather,” Wust told national broadcaster NOS.

Wust dealt with the conditions better in the 3,000-meter race, winning in 4 minutes, 15.80 seconds to move up to second in the overall standings, behind Takagi. Takagi was nearly four seconds slower than Wust in the 3,000, with Martina Sablikova finishing third.

The championships are a test of skaters’ all-round prowess, with races over 500, 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 meters for women and 500, 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 meters for men.

The skaters were not the only ones challenged by the conditions. The meet will also be a test for the officials in charge of preparing the ice, with rain and temperatures of up to 15 degrees Celsius (59 Fahrenheit) forecast over the weekend.

The women’s championship finishes Saturday with the 1,500 and 5,000, while the men skate the 500 and 5,000.

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