HEERENVEEN, Netherlands – Japanese skaters got off to sluggish starts Saturday at the world sprint championships, with Olympic gold medal favorite Joji Kato and veteran Hiroyasu Shimizu already out of title contention at the halfway stage.
Kato could only manage a seventh-place finish at 35.40 seconds in the 500 meters, well off the world record of 34.30 he set in Salt Lake City in November, before slumping to 42nd in the 1,000 for 32nd place in the men’s overall standings after two races.
Yusuke Imai ranked highest among the Japanese men in the field at 15th, followed by Keiichiro Nagashima at 18th and Shimizu at 28th.
Russia’s Dmitry Dorofeyev took the overall lead with 69.745 points after finishing first in the 500 in 35.11 and third in the 1,000 in 1:09.27. Joey Cheek of the United States, runner-up in both races, followed in second with 69.815 and Dutchman Jan Bos, winner in the 1,000 in 1:09.23, in third with 69.845.
“I was seventh despite making a very bad start, making me feel that I’ll able to skater faster tomorrow,” Kato said, looking ahead to the second-day 500-meter race in the meet where men’s and women’s champions are decided after two races each in the 500 and 1,000.
Former world champion Shimizu, the Nagano Olympic 500-meter champion, continued to struggle ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics in Turin by finishing eighth in the 500 and 38th in the 1,000.
In the women’s competition, Olympic medal hopeful Sayuri Yoshii came in seventh in both the 500 and 1,000 on her way to fifth place in the overall rankings with 77.520 points. Fellow Japanese Olympic skaters Tomomi Okazaki, Sayuri Osuga and Aki Tonoike were 10th, 15th and 20th, respectively.
Russia’s Svetlana Zhurova, third in both races, topped the women’s field with 76.950 points. Marianne Timmer of the Netherlands came second with 77.070 and China’s Wang Manli, winner of the 500 in 38.31, third with 77.170. Italy’s Chiara Simonato won the 1,000 in 1:16.95 and was fourth overall with 77.315.