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Four-time world champion speed skater Knegt shines in World Cup on home soil
Last Updated: 2017-10-09 13:51 | Xinhua
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On a day in which four-time world champion speed skater Sjinkie Knegt sent the crowd crazy with a first Dutch victory, a number of major medal contenders for the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games flexed their muscles as the ISU World Cup Short Track event in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, drew to a close.

After a number of near misses on Saturday, the home crowd finally got what they so desperately wanted when Knegt executed the perfect race strategy to power past rival and long-time leader Samuel Girard of Canada to grab a win in the men' s 1000m. South Korea's Seo Yi Ra, the 2017 ISU 1000m world champion, also showed a welcome return to form, taking bronze.

Remarkably, it was 28-year-old Knegt's first ISU World Cup triumph in the 1000m.

"It's great to get my first 1000m win. I felt good the whole time and I always felt I could pass him (Girard), but everything has to be done at the right moment," he said.

In a message that will worry his rivals, the Olympic 1000m bronze medallist revealed that he expects to see plenty of improvement over the coming months.

"I didn't have any quick acceleration this weekend," he said. "It was all endurance. I can definitely do much better. It will come with more racing."

Girard, the Dordrecht 500m champion, was candid in his assessment of the race, admitting that the Dutchman was "just too fast." However, the Canadian, who has looked in fine fettle all weekend, was delighted to get some practice in front of a truly partisan crowd.

"We have to get used to this kind of support with the Olympics coming up in [South] Korea. You have to use it and get a boost from it," he said.

The Canadian men's team certainly did that in the final of the 5000m relay. After a second successive comprehensive win, the quartet of Girard, Charles Hamelin, Charle Cournoyer and Pascal Dion already look like the team to beat in Pyeongchang in February.

"To stay in front on the ice, and mentally, is really important," Girard said. "It's pretty cool racing with these guys and we have to go away now and train hard and come back even stronger for the Asian legs [of the ISU World Cup, in November]."

The Dutch finished a relatively distant second in the relay with the Chinese taking bronze.

Matters were far less clear in the women's 3000m relay, with China shocking the previously unstoppable-looking South Korea to claim gold in a thrilling finale.

Ladies' 1500m champion and four-time gold medal winning star of the opening World Cup event in Budapest, South Korea's Choi Min Jeong, was refreshingly honest about the setback.

"We are a bit disappointed, we really focus on the relay," Choi said. "It is so frustrating. We would like to have gone a lot quicker for sure. The relay gold is a big aim for the Olympics."

For China, it was a welcome first gold in the ISU World Cup this season and may prove to be a springboard for further success in Shanghai and Seoul in November.

Intriguingly, the bronze medal-winning Canadian team feel they are coming to the boil at just the right moment.

"It's very satisfying, it all seems to be going the right way," Kasandra Bradette of Canada said. "We have been training really hard to gel together on the ice and as our individual performances have got better so our team has improved."

The ladies' 3000m relay looks to be one of the highlights of the Olympic Games.

Sochi 2014 Olympic 3000m relay gold medallist Shim Suk Hee of South Korea was another to show a well-timed return to form. After missing out on a medal in the ladies' 1000m in Budapest, the world record holder stormed to victory in the day' s opening final.

In a race featuring two inspired Dutch skaters, Shim shut out the crowd and maintained a commanding lead from the gun.

"I really enjoyed the atmosphere. I didn't let it affect me, it was great," Shim said.

In comparison, Suzanne Schulting of the Neterlands fed off the raucous noise inside the Dordrecht arena, pushing her illustrious rival to the end.

"I love the crowds here and in Rotterdam, they are so loud, so passionate, they are amazing," said the silver medallist.

Shim's teammate Lee Yu Bin won bronze in a photo-finish from the Netherlands' Yara van Kerkhof.

All eyes now turn to the east, with the next ISU World Cup Short Track event taking place in Shanghai, China from 9-12 November, followed by 16-19 November in Seoul, South Korea.

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