On the International Skating Union world championship scene, that can be the difference between finishing well back in the pack or on the podium.
For Moose Jaw’s Graeme Fish, it was all about the latter, and now he has his first World Single Distance Championship medal to show for it.
Fish, 23, finished third in the 5,000 metres at Worlds on Thursday in Salt Lake City, and it was an impressive level of improvement that saw to the success.
Fish had the unenviable task of matching up with the Netherland’s Patrick Roest – the reigning World Cup points leader who hadn’t lost a distance race this season -- in the second-to-last pairing of the meet, and doing so a race that isn’t usually the best for the 10,000 metres specialist.
But after Roest pulled away in the early going and took over the race lead by lap six, Fish continued to grind away. He sat in 11th place through three laps and hovered around sixth during laps five to 11. Roest led Fish by as much as three seconds in the middle of the race, a lead that by lap 11 was down to less than half a second.
Then came the stunner.
Fish saved his best lap of the entire race for the 13th and final loop of the 400 metre track, covering the circuit in 28.67 seconds, marking his fifth-straight sub-29 second lap and a full two and a half seconds faster than Roest at 31.46 seconds.
In the end, Fish crossed the line in 6:06.32 to Roest’s 6:08.59 to sit in third place. Fish would end up having the fastest final lap of the field, Roest was later disqualified and finished last.
Fish’s time was more than just a bit quicker than the last time he skated the distance at World Cup #5 in Calgary last weekend, too – back then, he finished in third place in a time of 6:10.538 behind Roest in first and teammate Ted-Jan Bloemen in second.
This time around it was world record holder Bloemen who crossed the line in first place, with his time of 6:04.375 seeing him take the lead in lap eight and never look back. It was the first 5,000 metres championship in Canadian speedskating history.
Finishing just over a second and a half ahead of Fish in second place was none other than four-time Olympic gold medalist Sven Kramer of the Netherlands, who has been battling injury all season and only skated in the first and last World Cup races before Salt Lake City.
Fish will be back in action Friday for the 10,000 metres, another race he has the potential to medal in.