Kearns • Safe to say, the ice is as fast as it has ever been at the Utah Olympic Oval.
Speedskaters broke two world records and 27 national records on the first day of a World Cup event there on Friday including sparkling sprints by Americans Heather Richardson and Mitch Whitmore and the two fastest 1,500s in the world in nearly four years by two-time Olympic champion Shani Davis and teammate Brian Hansen.
"That's a big step in the right direction," Davis said. "I think everything's a go. We're looking good" heading into the Sochi Olympics in Russia three months from now.
The 31-year-old Davis followed up his season-opening silver medal in the 1,500 last weekend in Calgary with a spectacular gold, finishing in 1 minute, 41.98 seconds the fastest time in the world since he set the world record of 1:41.04 on the same ice in 2009.
Hansen was second in 1:42.16, by far a personal best, and also faster than any time since Davis and Chad Hedrick traded blazing victories over two weekends in December of that year.
"It's an Olympic year," Hansen said, "so this is a big podium finish for me."
He's not the only one.
Richardson became one of just four women to skate the 500 meters under 37 seconds, clocking 36.94 in a race where South Korea's Sang-hwa Lee broke her own world record in 36.57, while Whitmore shattered his personal-best with a national-record 34.29 at the same distance though he missed the podium in fourth by just 0.03 seconds.
"The ice is super-fast," fellow sprinter Tucker Fredricks said.
A two-time Olympian, Fredricks followed his season-opening victory in the 500 with a fifth-place 34.30, a personal-best by 0.01 seconds but still slightly disappointing given how fast everybody else was going. The skaters awoke Friday to a storm moving over the Wasatch Front, indicative of lower air pressure that makes it easier for them to skate faster.
"This morning, I kind of joked around, 'I'm going 36 today!'" Richardson said, laughing. "I didn't want to jinx anything, but I'm really happy that I was able to pull that one off.
"It was a really fast start for me," she said. "I think that might have been my first 10.4" through the opening 100 meters. "So getting off the line that good was awesome."
Davis said he's in good form because of a groin injury that bothered him early last season, a "blessing in disguise" because it forced him to take time off and learn how to better recover from his withering training load.
"When you're 30 years old, you can't train like you're 22," he said.
In a clash of titans, two-time Olympic champion Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic came back on the final lap to edge five-time Olympic champ Claudia Pechstein of Germany by 0.01 seconds in the women's 3,000, avenging a loss last week in Calgary.
Sablikova clocked 3:57.79 the fastest time in the world in nearly three years.
It was by far the fastest time for the 41-year-old Pechstein since returning almost two years ago from a controversial doping ban and legal fight that led to her having a nervous breakdown. In the same race, the Netherlands' Antoinette de Jong finished third in 3:59.49 to set a junior world record.
World Cup speedskating
At the Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns
Gold •Â Sang-Hwa Lee, South Korea (36.57)
Silver • Wang Beixing, China (36.85)
Bronze •Â Heather Richardson, USA (36.97)
Gold •Â Gilmore Junio, Canada (34.25),
Joji Kato, Japan (34.25)
Bronze •Â Michel Mulder, Netherlands (34.26)
Gold •Â Martina Sablikova, Czech Republic (3:57.79)
Silver • Claudia Pechstein, Germany (3:57.80)
Bronze •Â Antoinette de Jong, Netherlands (3:59.49)
Gold •Â Shani Davis, USA (1:41.98)
Silver • Brian Hansen, USA (1:42.16)
Bronze •Â Koen Verweij, Netherlands (1:42.28)