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US's Heather Bergsma competes and goes on to win the women's 1000 meter race of the ISU world single distances speed skating championships at Gangneung Oval in Gangneung, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. The world cup competition is also a test event for the upcoming Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
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Heather Bergsma wins world title, could be top U.S. medalist in 2018

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After a disappointing Sochi Olympics, speed skater Heather Bergsma could be setting up for a historic rebound in PyeongChang.

The American reinforced her dominance in the 1000m at the World Single Distance Championships at the 2018 Olympic venue on Saturday, winning by .49 of a second in Gangneung, South Korea.

“I had hoped to [win], but I wasn’t sure what the other skaters were going to do,” Bergsma said. “I try not to hear times [of other skaters] before I went, because I just wanted to focus on myself.”

Japan’s Nao Kodaira, who won the 500m in Gangneung on Friday, took silver behind Bergsma. Dutchwoman Jorien ter Mors earned bronze after relegating Bergsma to silver in the 1000m and 1500m a year ago.

Full world championships results are here. NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app will air coverage Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Bergsma will skate in the 1500m, her favorite race, and the mass start on the last day of worlds on Sunday, likely dueling with the Netherlands’ Ireen Wuest for gold in the former. Wuest, the most decorated woman across all sports in Sochi with five medals, won the 3000m at worlds on Thursday.

Bergsma could very well be the top U.S. medal winner across all sports in PyeongChang. The medal-projection service Gracenote has her winning three medals next year — gold in the 1000m and 1500m and bronze in the 500m. No American in any sport won more than two medals in Sochi. No American has won three medals with two gold at a Winter Olympics since Eric Heiden swept the five speed skating events in Lake Placid in 1980.

Bergsma has been on a tear since finishing seventh, seventh and eighth in her three individual races in Sochi as part of U.S. speed skating’s much-publicized failure for multiple reasons. She went into those Winter Games favored to become the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic speed skating medal since 2002.

“Really motivated, I just want to come back and prove that I can do it,” said Bergsma, a former inline skater from North Carolina who made her Olympic debut in 2010.

She moved to the Netherlands two months after Sochi and married Dutch Olympic 10,000m champion Jorrit Bergsma, who had proposed to her in April 2013 by etching “Will You Marry Me?” into Myrtle Beach sand on a family vacation. Bergsma is still learning the native language. On Saturday, she answered the first few questions in an interview with Netherlands broadcaster NOS in Dutch, then switched to English.

“I can understand it really good, but speaking, especially after a race, all the words just disappear,” Bergsma later said in a phone interview, adding that she takes hourlong Skype lessons five days per week.

In the last three seasons, Bergsma broke the 1000m and 1500m world records and won world titles in the 500m and 1000m. Teammate Brittany Bowe snatched the 1000m mark eight days after Bergsma reset it, but Bowe is out due to effects from a July concussion. Bergsma has not been as strong in the 500m this season and finished eighth in the worlds race Friday.

Bergsma used the 500m this week as “a wake-up to the system.” Training more endurance in recent years, her opening 100-meter times have slowed, and she’s less able to keep up with the sprint specialists.

“In the first 100 meters I’m losing half a second,” she said. “When you have an extra lap there or two in the 1500m, you’re able to relax more and keep the speed better. I feel better in the 1000m, but the 1500m is still one of my favorites.”

Bergsma could skate in five events at the Olympics — 500m, 1000m, 1500m, team pursuit and mass start — but the 500m is droppable given its place on the schedule, one day before the team pursuit begins. If Bergsma cedes the 500m, she would have at least one day off between each event in PyeongChang.

Also Saturday, four-time Olympic medalist Shani Davis placed fifth in the men’s 1000m, .72 of a second behind winner Kjeld Nuis, the World Cup leader from the Netherlands. Canadian Vincent De Haitre took silver, followed by another Dutch skater, Kai Verbij.

The Czech Republic’s Martina Sablikova won her 11th straight Olympic or world title in the 5000m. Germany’s Claudia Pechstein, a 44-year-old with nine Olympic medals, took silver, 1.55 seconds behind.

Jorrit Bergsma took silver, 5.06 seconds behind Sven Kramer in the 10,000m. Bergsma was one second faster than Kramer through 23 of 25 laps in the grueling, 13-minute race, before fading horribly in the last 800 meters.

MORE: 18 U.S. Olympic hopefuls to watch for PyeongChang

Shani Davis hopes he’s on track for 2018 Olympics (video)

Shani Davis
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At 33, Shani Davis jokes that he’s close to being called a speed skating grandpa, but the four-time Olympic medalist said in January that he’s still considering a run for the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.

“I still have that passion from when I first started skating,” Davis told NBC TMJ4 in Milwaukee. “I’m just going to try to time it, you know. I want to time it so that if I do make it to 2018, that I’m in the best shape physically and mentally.”

Davis, who took gold in the 1000m and silver in the 1500m at both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, finished fifth in those distances at the World Single Distance Championships two weeks ago.

That marked the first time he missed the podium at a World Single Distance Championships.

Davis is the world-record holder in both events and won a surprise World 1000m title last season, after contemplating retirement during a campaign in which he had one World Cup podium finish (a third place).

“I’m not a middle-type-of-the-pack skater,” Davis said last year, before his bounce-back World title. “If I’m not competitive with the rest of the world, and I’m sixth and seventh and eighth, whatever, then it’s not for me. I can happily move on.”

This season, Davis also has one World Cup podium finish (a third place from Nov. 20). But, in the January interview, he sounded more optimistic about his future than one year ago.

“To try to save that energy just for those races at the Olympics and not spread myself too thin doing like, the World Cups and all these other races,” Davis told TMJ4. “The gold-medal part will always be something in me, but I won’t start thinking about that until the Olympic year.”

Davis can also take motivation from the Sochi Olympics, where he finished a disappointing eighth in the 1000m and 11th in the 1500m.

“It’s not a passing moment that I don’t think about 2014, but there’s nothing I can do about it now,” Davis said. “So it’s just moving forward and trying to correct the mistakes that we made there and, hopefully, four years’ time, we’re on the right track.”

MORE: 2002 Winter Olympic gold medal auctioned

Shani Davis out of the medals at World Championships for first time

Shani Davis
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Shani Davis finished fifth in his two best events, missing the podium at the World Single Distance Championships for the first time in his career.

Davis, a two-time Olympic 1000m champion and two-time 1500m silver medalist, finished 2.36 seconds behind Russian winner Denis Yuskov in the 1500m on Friday in Kolomna, Russia.

On Saturday, Davis was .68 behind Russian winner Pavel Kulizhnikov in the 1000m. Full competition results are here.

Davis, 33, is the world-record holder in both events and won a surprise World 1000m title last season, after contemplating retirement during a campaign in which he had one World Cup podium finish (a third place).

He is older than any previous World Championships men’s medalist in a distance shorter than 5000m, according to SchaatsStatistieken.nl.

“I’m not a middle-type-of-the-pack skater,” Davis said last year. “If I’m not competitive with the rest of the world, and I’m sixth and seventh and eighth, whatever, then it’s not for me. I can happily move on.”

This season, Davis also has one World Cup podium finish (a third place from Nov. 20).

He struggled at the Sochi Olympics, taking eighth in the 1000m and 11th in the 1500m as part of an overall disappointing performance by U.S. speed skaters.

Later Saturday, Brittany Bowe earned her second Worlds medal in as many days, silver in the 500m behind South Korean Lee Sang-hwa, the two-time Olympic champion and world-record holder. U.S. Olympian Heather Richardson-Bergsma was fifth.

Richardson-Bergsma and Bowe were first and second in the 500m at Worlds last year and second and third in the 1000m on Friday.

Earlier Saturday, Sven Kramer captured his 19th career World Single Distance Championships gold medal and second in as many days.

The Dutchman won his ninth Olympic or World title in the 5000m. Kramer hasn’t been beaten in that race at an Olympics or Worlds since Chad Hedrick topped him at the 2006 Olympics.

MORE: Two years to Pyeongchang: Updates on Sochi Olympic medalists