Martina Sábliková’s pursuit of a fifth European Speed Skating Championships title looks on track as the Czech star leads the women’s standings at the halfway mark in Minsk, Belarus.
The three-time Olympic champion is a specialist in the long distance events but was able to minimalise her losses in the shorter 500 metres event by finishing fourth in a time of 39.98sec.
Her time was just 0.24 off the pace of the winner, Norway’s Ida Njåtun, while the Dutch duo Antoinette de Jong and Ireen Wüst completed the top three places by crossing in times of 39.76 and 39.90, respectively.
Wüst, who is seeking to secure a fourth straight title, was impressive on her return from a pre-season concussion which has seen her miss the first four World Cup events of the season.
However, her rival Sábliková was able to set the fastest time in the 3,000m by finishing the distance in a time of 4min 3.79sec, with The Netherlands’ Marije Joling proving to be her closest challenger by ending 3.35 adrift.
Four-time winner Wüst ended third in 4:07.32, while the 500m victor Njåtun was languishing in sixth on 4:10.69.
Ahead of tomorrow’s 1,500m and 5,000m races, Sábliková currently occupies first place in the standings on 80.611 points.
Wüst and her Dutch compatriot Antoinette de Jong have 81.120 and 81.260 points as they seek to prevent their Czech rival from winning her first victory at the event since 2012.
Meanwhile in the men’s event, triple Olympic champion Sven Kramer’s bid to extend his record number of wins to eight began stylishly as he set the fastest time in the 5,000m event to top the leaderboard.
The Dutchman had finished fourth in the 500m, which was won by Russia’s Dennis Yukov in 36.23, but produced an excellent time of 6:19.17 over the longer distance.
Jan Blokhuijsen, the winner in Kramer’s absence in 2014, lies just 0.329 adrift of the leader’s overall points tally of 74.477 after coming second in the 5,000m and fifth over 500m.
Belgium’s Bart Swings, third in the 5,000m, is currently on 75.221 points to occupy the final podium place, prior to tomorrow’s 1,500m and 10,000m races.