NORWAY – Connor Howe, one of Canada’s top long track speed skaters, picked up where he left off last season.
The 22-year-old Canmore native sprinted to his best world cup start at the season opener ISU World Cup Speed Skating from Nov. 11-13 in Stavanger, Norway, claiming silver in the men's 1,500-metre at a time of 1:46.65.
"This is the best he's ever been, no doubt about it," said coach Bart Schouten on the start of his pupil's season. "I think we're still finding out where he's really good."
The 2022 Olympian aggressively attacked the first 700m, hustling to sixth spot at the first split time before turning it up a notch and jumping up to second place. However, Howe was unable to keep going at full tilt and held pace until the finish line in the fast race.
“I started pretty hard and went for it,” said the 1,500m national champion. “The last two laps could probably be better once we do a bit more racing because it’s been kind of a while since we’ve had a practice race and also we’re doing a bit more volume so we’re kind of getting the speed and a feel for the ice back.”
The silver is Howe’s third individual world cup medal following his breakout last season where he won silver and bronze medals in the 1,500m. Howe said there's still room for improvement, but overall it was encouraging to find the podium so quickly.
“It’s a real good sign to be picking up where I left off last year,” said Howe. “There’s a smaller field this year because a few guys aren’t here – the Russians aren’t there and a couple other guys, but I think it’s going in the right direction.”
Flying out of the starting gates the way Howe did is a good confidence-builder early on, said Schouten.
"I think last year was Connor's breakthrough year and there's always a little bit of a sense of 'can I do it again?'" said Schouten. "I think that [silver] takes that kind of worry away ... and understanding you're actually at that level. It's not just a one season, or a couple races, but something you can do consistently."
In first place in the 1,500m was 18-year-old Jordan Stolz of USA, breaking the track record at Vår Energi Arena Sørmarka with a time of 1:44.89. China’s Zhongyan Ning rounded out the podium at 1:46.68.
The young American held the lead from start to finish. Howe was impressed at his teen competitor's speed.
“[Stolz] skates so well, I think he can win a 500 or 1,000 or 1,500, like, it’ll be interesting to see where he goes with that,” said Howe. “We’ll both be around for a long time.”
It was a demanding weekend for Howe, who skated in five races in three days – the most he’s done at a world cup. In the mass start – Howe’s second national championship title – the six-foot-four skater didn’t advance to the final 16.
Howe placed fourth in the 5,000m B; 12th place in the 1,000m; and fifth in team pursuit with teammates Tyson Langelaar and Antoine Gélinas-Belireau.
"I think this much racing will not go at the expense of his best racing, but we're trying to expand the range of races that he can be good at," said Schouten. "We're still trying to explore that a little bit."
Up next, the world cup travels to Heerenveen, Netherlands starting this Friday (Nov. 18).