Recent Olympics showed that the pool of medal-contending nations in short track speed skating delves deeper than the traditional powers of South Korea, China, the U.S. and Canada.
The just-concluded World Cup season, the best indicator of Olympic medal prospects, marked further proof of that.
The six skaters atop the standings in individual Olympic events — men’s and women’s 500m, 1000m and 1500m — are from six different countries.
The standout continues to be Dutchwoman Suzanne Schulting, who was the lone man or woman ranked in the top four in all three distances this season.
Schulting, who in 2018 became the first Dutch Olympic short track champion (the nation has 42 long-track medals), won every gold at March’s world championships. The caveat then was that competition didn’t include any skaters from China or South Korea, nor Canada’s top skater, Kim Boutin.
But Schulting again swept every distance, this time against many of the world’s best, at the penultimate World Cup stop two weeks ago. Dutch dominance in long-track speed skating is being tested this season, so Schulting may be the Netherlands’ most successful Olympian in Beijing.
The other top women include veterans: Italian Arianna Fontana, who shares the Olympic short track record of eight medals, finished first or second in every 500m this season.
And newcomers: Lee Yu-Bin, a relay-only skater in PyeongChang and at worlds, was the lone South Korean woman to win multiple races this fall. Lee, though, was fourth overall at South Korea’s Olympic Trials in May, which puts her in line for relay-only duty again at the Olympics.
However, four-time Olympic medalist Shim Suk-Hee was removed from the national team for the entire World Cup season, potentially opening up an Olympic spot. Shim, who won the Olympic Trials, faced an investigation earlier this fall after a reported text message exchange that suggested she may have intentionally tripped fellow star Choi Min-Jeong during the 2018 Olympics.
Kristen Santos made three individual podiums this season, giving the U.S. hope for its first Olympic women’s short track medal since 2010. Santos was fourth overall at the 2018 Olympic Trials, where three women made the team. A month before trials, she needed surgery after another skater’s blade sliced her hand and wrist at a World Cup.
Santos can qualify for her first Olympics at trials in two weeks in Utah.
The top-ranked men in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m are all searching for their first individual Olympic medal.
The men’s 500m may be one of the most anticipated events across all sports at the Olympics, given the reigning Olympic champ and world-record holder is Wu Dajing of the host nation.
However, Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor outscored Wu on the World Cup. Liu, born in Budapest to a Hungarian mother and Chinese father, anchored a relay team in PyeongChang that won Hungary’s first Winter Olympic gold medal.
Canadian Pascal Dion, whose best individual Olympic or world champs finish is 10th, topped the 1000m standings this season. South Korean Hwang Dae-Heon won two of the four races, but he sat one out. Hwang won the overall title at South Korea’s Olympic Trials.
Ren Ziwei, a 2018 Olympic relay silver medalist for China, led the 1500m standings.
The U.S. men had zero podiums this season, though 2018 Olympic silver medalist John Henry-Krueger had a pair of second-place finishes for Hungary. Krueger changed nationalities after PyeongChang, citing a lack of financial support in the U.S.
Barring higher-ranked nations giving up their spots, the U.S. will not be part of the Olympic men’s relay for the first time since short track’s Olympic medal debut in 1992.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!Follow @nbcolympictalk