For American speedskaters Brittany Bowe and Heather Bergsma, the 2015-16 ISU World Cup season was one long, continuous game of “Can You Top This?”
From the first event in Calgary, Alberta in November through the season finale this past weekend in the Netherlands, Bowe and Bergsma — good friends and training partners — put on a show over six world cup events, breaking records, winning medals and setting standards for dominance by the American teammates.
When the season concluded Sunday at Thialf Arena at Heerenveen, Bowe had won the ISU Speed Skating Grand World Cup title for overall season excellence while Bergsma — last year’s Grand World Cup winner — was second.
“What a great way to end the season, going four-for-four,” Bowe said afterward.
The duo came into the world cup finale on a roll. In late February in Seoul, South Korea, Bowe won her second straight World Sprint Championship (the combined results of four races). She and Bergsma became the first teammates in 30 years to finish 1-2 in the World Sprint Championships in consecutive years.
In total, Bowe won all four of her events in Heerenveen to finish with 10 world cup gold medals on the season. In 22 world cup races, she won 20 medals. And she was overall season champion in both the 1,000- and 1,500-meter races. Bergsma, meanwhile, medaled in all four of her races on the Thialf Arena ice and won 18 total medals in 2015-16. She was overall season champion in the 500-meter race.
Bowe, a 28-year-old from Ocala, Florida, called it “a great year” and added, “I’m honored to have closed the season winning the Grand World Cup title.”
Said national sprint team head coach Matt Kooreman: “It’s just one of the greatest rivalries I’ve ever seen.”
A closer look at their accomplishments this season:
After finishing second to Bergsma in the 1,000 at the world cup opener in Calgary, 2014 Olympian Bowe rebounded to break the longest-standing women’s speedskating world record in the 1,500-meter. She won in 1:51.59 to top the mark of 1:51.79 set by Cindy Klassen of Canada in 2005.
Bowe said she came out with a little extra fire for the 1,500-meter.
“Falling just short of the gold and world record (in the 1,000) definitely put some extra motivation in my body,” Bowe said. “I channeled a lot of that energy into good skating, good race tactics and I knew I had to skate perfect to end up on top. To be able to get that world record is quite an honor. … Cindy’s in a class of her own. She’s a legend.”
In the next world cup event at Kearns, Utah, Bowe broke Bergsma’s recently-set world record in the 1,000-meter (1:12.51), skating a time of 1:12.18.
It was the first time a country set multiple women’s world records on back-to-back weekends since Germany in 2001.
* In February in Seoul, Bowe became the first American woman to win consecutive World Sprint Championships since Bonnie Blair in 1994-95.
* At the World Single Distances Championships in Russia in February, Bowe took gold in the 1,000, silver in the 500 and bronze in the 1,500 while Bergsma took silver. Bowe then won a silver in the 500. On the final day of competition, Bergsma won silver and Bowe took bronze.
* Bowe has been selected as one of 17 semifinalists for the annual Sullivan Award, given to the nation’s top amateur athlete.
The two-time Olympian, 26, who married Dutch speedskater Jorrit Bergsma in May of 2015, began this season with a bang.
She won the 1,000 in Calgary in November while setting a world record of 1:12.51. In winning, Bergsma had to best Bowe, who had minutes earlier set a record of 1:12.58.
“When she set it, I just told myself, ‘You can skate fast, too, so let’s just see what happens,’” Bergsma said. She slipped slightly on the final turn, but overcame it.
“I just had to get to the line after that,” Bergsma said. “That was the only thing I was thinking about.”
In the next world cup event in Kearns, Bergsma broke Bowe’s world mark in the 1,500 that had been set in Calgary the week before. Bergsma’s time was 1:50.85, topping Bowe’s 1:51.59. Bowe took the silver in 1:51.31.
It was the first time U.S. women set long track world records on consecutive weekends.
Said Bergsma: “I think we feed off each other. I know last weekend I fueled her fire after taking the record in the 1,000-meter, and then she went and did the 1,500-meter, so I’m sure tomorrow she’s going to bring her A game.”
Over the course of this year’s world cup schedule, Bowe and Bergsma finished first or second in the same race nine times.
* Over two world cup events in November, she won eight medals, the most of any skater, and took an early lead in the Grand World Cup point standings.
* At the World Single Distances Championships in Russia in February, Bergsma won silver in the 1,000- and 1,500-meter races. She also won silver at the sprint world championships.
* Richardson’s other victory on the world cup circuit this season was in the 1,500 in Heerenveen in December. In that race, she beat Bowe by 0.15 seconds, skating a time of 1:55.29.
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.