Kearns • Ryan Shimabukuro, United States Speedskating’s head long-track coach, sees the mass start as pure pandemonium.
Every other long-track event features just two skaters, or at the very most two teams, skating head to head. They have specific lanes to stay in and cannot come in contact with one another.
Mass start is the antithesis of that. At the International Skating Union World Single Distance Championships at the Utah Olympic Oval on Sunday, 23 men lined up at the start. Then over the course of 16 laps, equalling 6,400 meters, they jostled and pulled and bumped each other. Some ducked in to draft. Others sprinted into the lead, rabbits for the pack to chase.
“There’s so much chaos that can go on in that race,” Shimabukuro said.
That’s not how Joey Mantia views it. Mantia, who said he didn’t have the energy he needed to defend his back-to-back titles in the event Sunday after taking bronze in the 1,500 meters an hour earlier, sees it as something more akin to a seven-minute symphony. Perhaps that’s what makes the Salt Lake City skater so good at it.
“You have to be willing to work all the time. You can’t just say, ‘I will let that break go.’ You have to chase everything and be fit, but I would say it’s way more relaxed,” Mantia said. “When it’s going really well, it seems everything is in slow motion and I can move at my leisure.”
Mantia has expertly and elegantly navigated his way through more than a few mass start fields. In addition to winning world titles in 2017 and ’19, he leads the 2019-20 World Cup standings, having won two medals, a gold and a silver, in three competitions.
At Sunday’s world championships, he placed fifth overall. It’s not the result he wanted, he said, but considering the circumstances, he feels he’s well-positioned in that event and the 1,500 heading into the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
“I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life, but I’m also older than I’ve ever been in my life. I’m older than most of the people out there,” Mantia, 34, said. “So [skating multiple events], it’s taking its toll. But I feel good about going into the Games coming off of this, and next year I’m looking forward to how it goes. I’m optimistic right now.”
The mass start is the newest discipline in long-track skating. The ISU began integrating the mass start into its events in 2011-12 and it made its Olympic debut in 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea. Mantia was fourth across the line in that race. However, because he collected fewer sprint points — which are awarded to top three racers on every fourth lap, similar to cycling — than other skaters did, he officially finished ninth.
Mantia said he considers himself fourth since points don’t affect the standings of the top three overall finishers and he didn’t care about anything other than the podium. That wasn’t necessarily the case Sunday, when he knew his legs hadn’t recovered enough to allow him to chase a four-man group that broke away on the eighth lap. That was the price of medaling in the 1,500, and he said he was OK with that.
“I got a little bit of luck in the 15, used it up and didn’t get any in the mass start,” he said. “So that’s how it goes.”
One thing that was similar to PyeongChang, though, was that Mantia felt overextended. In addition to racing the mass start just an hour after capturing bronze in the 1,500 — his first career medal in a time trials event and the only medal of the weekend for Team USA — he had also skated the 1,000 a day earlier.
After that race, he indicated he’d be willing to give it up to improve his chances at a medal in Beijing.
“That might be the last 1,000 I skate,” he said Saturday following a 12th-place finish in the 1,000. “I’d rather focus on 1,500 and mass start moving on and into the Olympics.”
Teammate Ian Quinn also raced the men’s mass start Sunday, placing 12th. Quinn has been training with Mantia and said he hasn’t noticed him slowing down.
“Obviously he’s super fast,” Quinn, 26, said Saturday following his first career world championship event, the team pursuit. “He has such a great background with inline [skating]. He knows how to race this race really well.”
Quinn expressed faith that Mantia can win more titles. But he also knows that in a chaotic, symphonic event like mass start, nothing is certain.
“It’s a very unpredictable race, and who knows what’s going to happen,” Quinn said. “But Joey is an amazing skater to be able to chase and have as a training partner and just watch how he races. He’s very, very good.”
Salt Lake City resident Brittany Bowe and Kimi Goetz both raced the women’s 1,500 for Team USA. Bowe placed 14th overall while Goetz was 21 among 24 competitors.
Mia Kilburg-Manganello, who is currently in fifth in the World Cup standings for women’s mass start, crossed the finish line sixth in that event. She dropped one spot based on her points to seventh. Teammate Paige Schwartzburg, meanwhile, was involved in an early crash and did not finish the race.
Numerous world records fell over the weekend. The Netherlands women’s sprint team started by setting the bar in that event Thursday. Friday, Canadian Graeme Fish claimed the men’s 10,000 record followed by Japan resetting the women’s team pursuit mark. Russia’s Pavel Kulizhnikov claimed the record in the men’s 1,000 on Saturday. Earlier in the day, Natalia Vornina of Russia blew away the women’s 5,000 record by more than two seconds. With Vornina’s feat, every current long track record except one, the men’s 3,000, has been set at the Oval.
ISU WORLD SINGLE DISTANCE CHAMPIONSHIPS
Ireen Wust, NED, 1:50.92
Evgenila Lalenkova, RUS, 1:51.13
Elizaveta Kazelina, RUS, 1:51.41
Also: 14. Brittany Bowe, USA, 1:54.20; 21. Kimi Goetz, USA, 1:55.259
Kjeld Nuis, NED, 1:41.664
Thomas Krol, NED, 1:41.735
Joey Mantia, USA, 1:42.164
Also: 16. Emery Lehman, USA, 1:44.252
Women’s mass start
Ivani Blondin, CAN, 8:14.02
Bo-REum Kim, KOR, 8:14.22
Irene Schouten, NED, 8:14.32
Also: 7. Mia Kilburg-Manganello, USA, 8:14.95; DNF, Paige Schwartzburg, USA
Men’s mass start
Jorrit Bergsma, NED, 7:39.49
Jordan Belchos, CAN, 7:39.79
Antoine Gelinas-Beaulieu, CAN, 7:40.27
Also: 5. Joey Mantia, USA, 7:41.81; 12. Ian Quinn, USA, 7:42.53