Joey Mantia had been struggling to finish his races with any motivation this season after a December bout of COVID-19 left him fatigued, but it was his finish that earned him an unprecedented third mass start speed skating world title on Saturday in Heerenveen, Netherlands.
At 35 years and 6 days of age, Mantia became the second oldest speed skating world champion in a singular individual event.
Hanging between seventh and 12th for much of the race and never making any real movement during the first 10 laps, the 35-year-old American appeared not to be a threat in the 16-man field. With six laps to go, Mantia had started moving up and was jockeying between fifth and sixth position.
He was back in ninth with less than three laps to go as the action intensified. When the bell rang for the final lap, Mantia found the drive he had been seeking all season. He broke away, quickly passing five other skaters to stake his claim at the front, where he separated himself and solidly remained until the finish.
Mantia crossed the line in 7:32.47, screaming “Yeah!” and pounding his chest in victory as “Born in the USA” began to play in the Thialf arena. The Netherlands’ Arjan Stroetinga, 39, was 0.3 seconds behind for the silver, followed by Belgian Bart Swings, just 0.06 after Stroetinga. Last year’s world champion, Dutchman Jorrit Bergsma, was in the top three for much of the race but would finish in seventh.
In an event that has been on the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships program since 2015 and the Olympic program since 2018, Mantia is now the first man or woman to win three world championship gold medals. No other man has won more than once.
He is now one of 10 men to win three or more world titles in the same individual event in the world championships’ 25-year history. Mantia won the event in 2017 and 2019 before placing fifth on home ice last season.
After winning three medals in the event on last season’s World Cup tour and finishing second in the standings, Mantia failed to medal in either of this season’s World Cups, both held in January in Heerenveen. His fourth place at the final one was impressive considering he had spent two weeks almost entirely on his couch just one month prior while he was dealing with COVID-19, which has left him fatigued and groggy, and often with no motivation for a final kick at the end of a race.
“I skated the race great, but I just had nothing left at the end of the race to make any kind of move,” he told NBCSports.com last week. “That’s normally not like me at all.”
Mantia’s fourth career world championship medal (he won bronze in last year’s 1500m) tie him for third on the U.S. men’s all-time single distance list with Chad Hedrick and Jonathan Kuck, though his three golds are second only to Shani Davis, who won 15 total, including eight golds, in his career.
Earlier in the day, Mantia’s longtime teammate Brittany Bowe won her record-tying third 1000m world title in 1:14.128. Kai Verbij of the Netherlands took the men’s 1000m in 1:08.052 after winning it in 2019. His teammate Marijke Groenewoud won the women’s mass start in 8:43.150 for her first world championship medal.