All eyes were on Heather Bergsma going into the 1,000-meter Saturday evening at the World Single Distances Championships in Gangneung, South Korea.
The 27-year-old long track speedskater is in the middle of a dominating season at the distance, which she has won five times in as many world cup starts. But she had never earned a world title in the 1,000, taking silver the past two years and bronze in 2011.
That changed on Saturday when Bergsma won the gold medal in commanding fashion, leading the rest of the field by nearly half a second in a sport timed to the hundredth.
“It feels really good,” Bergsma told TeamUSA.org after the race. “I’m really happy with how strong I was able to skate.”
Bergsma’s 1:13.94 is the fastest time in the world this season, surpassing her mark of 1:14.13 from the U.S. championships last month in Kearns, Utah. Japan’s Nao Kodaira took the silver in 1:14.43 for her first world medal in the 1,000, while Dutch skater Jorien ter Moors was the bronze medalist in 1:14.63.
Bergsma skated in the 11th of 12 pairings and said the key was to not watch the skaters before her and remain focused on her own performance while she readied for her race.
“I knew if I just stayed within myself and skated like I can, I’d be fine,” she said.
Bergsma said her dominance at the distance came as a surprise at the start of the season, and the expectations on her have caused some nerves, but at worlds she “took it and turned it into a little adrenaline to keep me going.”
The North Carolina native is hoping to keep the adrenaline going all the way to the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. The world championships also serve as speedskating’s Olympic test event and Bergsma’s first look at the venue where she hopes to win her first Olympic medal at her third Games next year.
“It’s really nice to be here and see where everything’s going to take place next year,” she said. “The ice is actually really fast, so it’s nice to be here.”
The 1,000-meter gold is her seventh world single distances medal. In addition to her four medals at 1,000 meters, she won 500-meter gold in 2015, 1,500 silver in 2016 and 1,500 bronze in 2015.
On Sunday, she’ll hope to add to that list when she races in the 1,500 and mass start, both races where she is a medal threat.
“Racing both on one day is always a challenge, but I’m excited for both of them.”