January 06, 2017

HEERVENVEEN, Netherlands (AP) Ireen Wust won a direct confrontation against her chief rival Martina Sablikova in the 3,000 meters on Friday to take a commanding lead halfway through the women's European all-around speed skating championship.

In the men's sprint competition, another Dutchman was leading halfway through, with Kai Verbij holding an edge over Nico Ihle of Germany and Havard Holmefjord Lorentzen of Norway with Saturday's closing 500 and 1,000 to come.

After the first session of the three-day European championships with two all-around and two sprint titles at stake, all eyes were on multiple Olympic champions Wust and Sablikova squaring off in the 3,000 late Friday.

Home favorite Wust had already won the first of four races, the 500, to put all the pressure on Sablikova, but piled on some more by taking the early initiative in the 7 + lap race at the raucous Thialf hall.

''It was risky to do this,'' said Wust, knowing the relentless stamina of her Czech opponent. Even though Sablikova clawed herself back into the race, Wust still won in 4 minutes 3.93 seconds, finishing .80 seconds ahead of Sablikova.

Now Wust leads ahead of compatriot Antoinette de Jong and Sablikova. The women's all-around championships end with the 1,500 and 5,000 on Saturday.

''Now it comes down to a great 1,500 and make another breakthrough,'' said Wust, who is seeking her fifth European crown.

In the men's sprint, much of it was orange-colored too.

The opening 500 went to Ronald Mulder, the Olympic bronze medalist, before Kjeld Nuis stepped in to take the 1,000. However, with a 4th and 2nd place finish it was Verbij who was leading after two events ahead of Saturday's finale.

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