HEERENVEEN, The Netherlands – Connor Howe put the speed skating world on notice.
The 22-year-old from Canmore won the men’s 1,500-metre race, besting Olympic champion Kjeld Nuis to claim his first-ever gold medal at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating on Sunday (Nov. 20) in Heerenveen, Netherlands.
“It’s probably the best race I’ve skated ever,” said Howe.
“It was a pretty high level race, all the top skaters were there, so it was the first time I was on top with everyone there so I think that’s a good sign. Kjeld and Thomas [Krol], that was the first time I beat them.”
Grimace plastered across Howe’s face as the Canmore-raised skater gave it everything down the final stretch and crossed the finish at 1:43.38.
Nuis of the Netherlands took silver (1:43.64) in the long track race, and 2022 Olympic silver medallist Krol of The Netherlands skated to bronze (1:43.83).
There's a new king in town! pic.twitter.com/TQUYK22F26— Denny Morrison (@Denny_Morrison) November 20, 2022
After the race, Howe received praise from a Canadian speed skater, who, not too long ago, stood in Howe's shoes.
“There’s a new king in town,” said Denny Morrison in a social media post with a photo of Howe on the podium in between the Dutch duo.
A four-time Olympic medallist, Morrison is the last Canadian man to have won the 1,500m at a world cup in 2015. He also holds the national record for the 1,500m at a time of 1:42.01 – a time that Howe looks to break.
The ISU world cup comes to Calgary for two events in December. Last year, Howe skated to a personal best 1:42.42 in Calgary en route to qualifying for his first Olympic Games.
“With this race today, I think I would be right around [the national record time],” said Howe about Morrison’s record that was set in 2008 at the Calgary Olympic Oval. “I think I can skate to personal bests when we come back to Calgary, at least. And getting closer to the world record would be really special.”
Set in 2019, Nuis, 33, is the current 1,500m world record holder (1:40.17).
The Dutch skater made his world cup debut in Heerenveen after injury kept him out of the season opener last weekend in Norway.
However, the three-time Olympic gold medallist hadn’t missed a beat on Sunday, sprinting to the finish line with the second-best final split time (27.8) to take over first place early on.
“I think [Nuis] thought he had it,” said Howe. “He started celebrating after [last week’s world cup winner] Jordan Stolz went, and I came later.
“I knew I had to skate a good one to be on the podium given the level of the skaters.”
The Canuck attacked the first 300m of the long track race, leaving pairing partner Peder Kongshaug of Norway to play catch-up.
“The way to skate a 1,500 is to go nearly all out and hold on and kind of stay in your position and let the momentum carry through,” said Howe.
Howe heard the roar of the crowd during each split time when the jumbo screen showed Nuis falling behind the Canadian champion.
Chasing the draft of Kongshaug in the crossing stretch, Howe said pursuing his Norwegian pairing counterpart in the final lap helped give him an extra push down to the final stretch.
“I heard the crowd so I was thinking I had a good one,” said Howe.
🚨 GOLD MEDAL ALERT 🚨@Connor_Howe00 wins GOLD in the 1500m in Heerenveen! 🙌🙌🙌— Speed Skating Canada | Patinage de Vitesse Canada (@SSC_PVC) November 20, 2022
Connor Howe remporte la médaille d'or au 1500m à Heerenveen! 👏👏👏@CBCOlympics @cbcsports @ISU_Speed pic.twitter.com/HQrPWyAqx3
After the race, both Dutch speed skating vets Nuis and Krol congratulated the Canadian.
The gold is Howe’s second world cup medal this season after he took home silver in the 1,500m last weekend in what’s already been a big season. At the Canadian championships in October, Howe rocketed to two national titles in the 1,500m and mass start races.
With the emergence of Howe along with USA’s Stolz and China’s Zhongyan Ning, among others, the local speed skater thinks the opportunity for more excellence is still on the horizon.
“Kjeld and Thomas have been dominating for four years or so, so I think this year it’s a bit more of an open field,” said Howe.
“[After winning gold] it seems within reach to win at world championships this year, they’re also here, and I’ll have another chance to do that and knowing I can be right at the top tells me that’s good.”
The next ISU world cup takes place Dec. 9-11 at the Calgary Olympic Oval.