Nao Kodaira will return to the ISU Speed Skating World Cup circuit in Poland ©Getty Images

Qualification for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will be central in skaters’ minds as the International Skating Union (ISU) Speed Skating World Cup season begins in Tomaszów Mazowiecki.

The event in Poland is one of four World Cup competitions contributing to the qualification period for Beijing 2022.

The World Cup season will begin tomorrow in Arena Lodowa.

Men’s and women’s 500 metres sprint events will take place on the opening day, as well as the women’s 3,000m and men’s 5,000m.

Japan’s Olympic champion Nao Kodaira will hope to challenge Femke Kok in the women’s 500m, after the Dutch skater dominated in her absence last season.

World champion Angelina Golikova of Russia will also be a threat in the competition.

Kodaira forms part of a strong Japanese team returning to the circuit after opting out last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four athletes and six officials from the Japanese team have been quarantined in Germany prior to the event, after positive tests for COVID-19.

The remainder of the squad are expected to compete, should they produce negative tests.

Tatsuya Shinhama and Yuma Murakami are expected to lead the Japanese challenge in the men’s 500m event.

World champion Laurent Dubreuil of Canada, Russia’s world record-holder Pavel Kulizhnikov and The Netherlands’ Dai Dai N’tab will also be in contention.

The second women’s 500m races will be held on Saturday (November 13), with the men’s taking place the following day.

Jutta Leerdam will eye success in the women's middle-distance races ©Getty Images
Jutta Leerdam will eye success in the women's middle-distance races ©Getty Images

The United States’ Brittany Bowe and Dutchwoman Jutta Leerdam are expected to go head-to-head in the women’s 1,000m and 1,500m events.

Japan’s Miho Takagi, the 1,500m world record-holder, will hope to challenge the duo on her return.

Dutch success is expected in the men’s 1,000m and 1,500m with Thomas Krol and Kjeld Nuis hoping to show supremacy in the build-up to Beijing 2022.

World Cup distance champion Patrick Roest will face competition from Dutch compatriots Jorrit Bergsma and Sven Kramer, a multiple Olympic gold medallist, over the men’s 5,000m distance.

Sweden’s Nils van der Poel will seek to prevent Dutch dominance in the events.

Van der Poel earned 5,000m and 10,000m titles at last year’s World Championships.

The women’s 3,000m race will feature Russia’s Natalya Voronina, Canada’s Ivanie Blondin, the Czech Republic’s Martina Sáblíková and The Netherlands’ Irene Schouten.