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Russian speedskaters start strong in Calgary, host team held off podium

CALGARY — Russia won the majority of medals while host Canada was shut out Friday in World Cup speedskating.

The Russians claimed seven of a dozen medals, including two gold and a podium sweep, at Calgary's Olympic Oval.

Reigning world champion and world-record holder Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic prevailed in the women's 3,000 metres.

The 32-year-old veteran appears ready to defend her title at next week's world single distance championship in Salt Lake City.

Ottawa's Ivanie Blondin and Isabelle Weidemann rank second and third respectively behind Sablikova in women's World Cup distance races, but neither were within striking distance of her Friday.

Blondin held podium pace for six laps before fading to seventh ahead of Weidemann in eighth.

"I just didn't really have anything left in the tank," Blondin said.

"I would say this is a little bit of a hiccup for me. I didn't skate the way I wanted to skate today. It happens. A home World Cup for me is always tough. I find there's so many distractions."

Blondin and Weidemann each won a 3k earlier this World Cup season.

"I didn't have the best race today," Weidemann said. "A little disappointed with it. I just couldn't seem to find any speed. I started a little bit too slow. I just didn't bank any time at the beginning."

The Canadian team is coming off a training camp in Salt Lake in preparation for the world championships.

"Our goal isn't to peak right now," Blondin said. "It's to peak for world championships and we had a really hard training camp in Salt Lake.

"I'm not super-happy with the performance, but it's not going to ruin my focus for next week."

Blondin and Weidemann are without their Dutch coach Remmelt Eldering in Calgary.

He returned to the Netherlands midway through the Salt Lake camp because of a death in his family. Eldering will rejoin the team there for the world championship.

"It's hard to see someone so close to you go through that," Blondin said. "I think we're just emotional right now and not that that's a reason why the performances happened the way they did.

"They weren't the best races of all time, but they weren't horrible either. A week is a long time to get back on track."

Antoinette de Jong of the Netherlands was second to Sablikova 1.24 seconds back of the winner. Natalia Voronina of Russia placed third.

Antoine Gelinas-Beaulieu of Sherbrooke, Que., posted Canada's best result of the day finishing fourth in the men's 1,500 metres.

Russia's Denis Yuskov was the winner in one minute 43.234 with Gelinas-Beaulieu three-quarters of a second behind him.

China's Zhongyan Ning and American Joey Mantia were second and third respectively.

Ruslan Murashov led a Russian sweep of the men's 500-metre podium in a winning time of 34.04 seconds.

His countrymen Pavel Kulizhnikov and Viktor Mushtakov were second and third respectively. 

Calgary's Gilmore Junio was the top Canadian in ninth in 34.32 seconds.

Nao Kodaira of Japan took the women's 1,000 metres in 1:12.652 seconds ahead of Russians Olga Fatkulina and Yekaterina Shikhova.

Calgary's Kaylin Irvine placed 13th with a personal best time of 1:14.411.

Racing continues Saturday with the women's 500 and 1,500 metres, as well as the men's 1,000 and 5,000 metres.

Calgary's Ted-Jan Bloemen, the world record holder in the 5k, will compete Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2020.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press