The New Zealand pursuiters are hoping a radical technique can propel them to a huge upset when they take on hosts South Korea in the Olympic speed skating semi-final early tomorrow morning.
Necessity was the mother of invention for the New Zealand trio of Shane Dobbin, kingpin Peter Michael and Reyon Kay, who as the fourth qualifiers must take on the top seeded Koreans.
New Zealand’s chances of progressing to the gold medal race are not rated high. Their next assignment would be a race for bronze, against traditional powerhouse the Netherlands or Norway. Annelise Coberger won New Zealand’s only Winter Olympics medal 26 years ago.
The 38-year-old Dobbin said the team has settled on a system of fewer lead changes with Michael anchoring the team by leading for a massive final five laps. They tried the system because veteran Dobbin was not strong enough to hold up at the front, after coming out of retirement. Dobbin believes other teams might even consider incorporating what New Zealand is doing.
“We have a unique set up, with the anchor skater doing a few more laps than rest,” he said. “We run a bit different, a necessity of last season. I physically wasn’t strong enough to pull steady leads and make it to the finish in good shape. We altered our lead schedule, Reon pulls the first three laps them, and Michael is on front for the final five laps.
“It is a challenge. While it is tough for the guys, every team loses .3 second every time you change the lead, so if we can minimise our lead change.”
Dobbin said their analysis shows the Koreans’ big advantage over New Zealand is on the first and last laps. The New Zealanders will make a particular effort to compensate for that. Their plan involves estimating the sort of time Korea can do, and coming up with average lap times to beat that.
“We’re loving it at the moment, going into this semi-final,” he said.”They are the home nation with a crowd of 10,000 people cheering for them. It is their race to lose. The pressure is on them.” NZME