Skaters take part in a training session at the National Speed Skating Oval in Beijing, capital of China, Jan 31, 2022. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
Speed skating powerhouse the Netherlands is aiming to extend its dominance at Beijing 2022, but the Dutch are unlikely to have it all their own way at the National Speed Skating Oval.
The Netherlands has long been the dominant force in the sport, winning seven golds, and 16 medals in total, four years ago at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Veteran Sven Kramer leads the team in Beijing. The nine-time Olympic medalist, who won the 5,000m title for the third straight time at Pyeongchang 2018, will be competing at his fifth consecutive Olympics and is hoping to add more medals to his bulging collection.
On the women's side, Kramer's compatriot Ireen Wust is also keen to add to her Olympic medal tally at her fifth Games.
Ning Zhongyan of China has emerged as the biggest gold-medal hope by claiming two gold and two silver medals over 1,000m and 1,500m at the World Cup, underscoring his status as a leading figure in China's Olympic roster
The 35-year-old has pocketed five golds, and 11 medals in total, across four Olympics and four separate events.
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China has won just one Olympic speed skating gold to date-Zhang Hong's women's 1,000m title at the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia. But this time on home ice, China is expected to pose a stronger challenge following a successful World Cup season that yielded four gold, three silver and two bronze medals.
Chinese speedsters also broke national records four times and set personal bests on 35 occasions during the four legs of the World Cup circuit in November and December.
Ning Zhongyan has emerged as the biggest gold-medal hope by claiming two gold and two silver medals over 1,000m and 1,500m at the World Cup, underscoring his status as a leading figure in China's Olympic roster.
China's Zhongyan Ning skates during the men's 1000-meter competition at the ISU World Cup speedskating event in Calgary, Alberta, Dec 12, 2021. (JEFF MACINTOSH / THE CANADAIAN PRESS VIA AP)
"I will give my all and try to present the best of myself," said the 22-year-old who will make his Olympic debut. "Hopefully, I can make my name known to the rest of the world with my performances in Beijing."
Joining Ning to spearhead China's charge is Olympic bronze medalist Gao Tingyu, who hopes to improve on his third-place finish in the men's 500m at the 2018 Games. The 25-year-old came home from the World Cup circuit with a gold and a silver following a series of sub-34-second performances.
Japan also boasts strong medal contenders, including three-time Olympic medalist Miho Takagi, and all-rounder Nao Kodaira, who triumphed in the 500m at the Pyeongchang Games.
Erin Jackson of the United States, currently the No 1-ranked skater in the women's 500m, is strongly favored for gold in Beijing, while her teammate Brittany Bowe could snatch glory in the women's 1,000m.
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