U.S. speed skaters flexed their muscle with three medals to open the Salt Lake City World Cup on Friday.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Shani Davis won the 1500m in 1 minute, 41.98 seconds, his fastest time since his world record 1:41.04 in 2009. Davis, who won gold in the 1000m and silver in the 1500m in Torino and Vancouver, also won two medals last weekend in Calgary.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for the U.S. has been the emergence of Brian Hansen, 23, who finished second to Davis in the 1500m with a personal best 1:42.16.
Hansen, who won silver in the team pursuit in 2010 as the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic speed skating team, finished third in the 1000m last weekend and appears to be turning into an individual Olympic medal contender.
South Korea’s Lee Sang-Hwa broke her world record in the women’s 500m for the second straight week. She clocked 36.57, easily beating her week-old mark of 36.74, in the first of two sprints this weekend.
China’s Wang Beixing finished second (36.85), earning her third medal of the young World Cup season. American Heather Richardson, who won the 1000m in Calgary, continued her fast start to the season, taking third in 36.97 in a race that normally isn’t her specialty.
Wang and Richardson became the second and third women ever to break 37 seconds.
“For the 500, it’s just you and one other person and you switch lanes on the back stretch, so I really try to focus on if I was to false start, what’s in the race and then I gradually picture myself winning the race just to end on a positive note so that I’m ready for anything during the race,” Richardson said earlier this year.
The first men’s 500m was closer. Japan’s Joji Kato and Canada’s Gilmore Junio tied for first in 34.25. The 23-year-old Junio’s gold was surprising, his second career World Cup medal.
The Netherlands’ Michel Mulder crossed .01 behind Kato and Junio. Mulder’s bronze matched twin brother Ronald’s finish in Calgary.
Americans Mitchell Whitmore (34:29) and Tucker Fredricks (34.30) finished fourth and fifth. Both posted personal bests. Fredricks, a two-time Olympian, won the second 500m last weekend.
“Health-wise, it’s up and down, I’ve been having a back problem the past couple of years so that was hurting me last year and end of this year,” Fredricks said last month. “It’s been a lot better, but I still have to take care of it, keep an eye on it, so it doesn’t act up too much.”
The women’s 3000m ended with a decorated pair battling for gold. Czech Martina Sablikova, who won two gold medals in Vancouver, won in 3:57:79.
Germany’s Claudia Pechstein, a nine-time Olympic medalist who missed the 2010 Games because of a blood-doping ban, finished .01 behind.
Pechstein, who can become the most decorated female Winter Olympian with one medal in Sochi, won gold last week in the 3000m with Sablikova finishing second.
Races continue Saturday at 10:45 a.m. ET and continue through Sunday.
Salt Lake City World Cup Day 1
Women’s 500m Race 1
1. Lee Sang-hwa (KOR) 36.57 WR
2. Wang Beixing (CHN) 36.85
3. Heather Richardson (USA) 36.97
8. Brittany Bowe (USA) 37.32
12. Lauren Cholewinski (USA) 37.60
20. Elli Ochowicz (USA) 38.25
Men’s 500m Race 1
1. Joji Kato (JPN) 34.25
1. Gilmore Junio (CAN) 34.25
3. Michel Mulder (NED) 34.26
4. Mitchell Whitmore (USA) 34.29
5. Tucker Fredricks (USA) 34.30
1. Martina Sablikova (CZE) 3:57.79
2. Claudia Pechstein (GER) 3:57.80
3. Antoinette de Jong (NED) 3:59.49
1. Shani Davis (USA) 1:41.98
2. Brian Hansen (USA) 1:42.16
3. Koen Verweij (NED) 1:42.28
8. Trevor Marsicano (USA) 1:43.02