Belarus' Marina Zueva will aim to impress in front of a home crowd at the opening ISU Speed Skating World Cup event of the new season in Minsk ©Getty Images

Marina Zueva will hope to impress in front of a home crowd as the International Skating Union (ISU) Speed Skating World Cup season opens in Belarus.

Skaters are set to compete for three days at the Minsk Arena in the first of the six World Cup events of the season.

Zueva has previously enjoyed competing at the venue, as she earned her sole World Cup podium finish when she claimed silver during the 2018 season in the 3,000 metres event.

She will be the crowd favourite this weekend in the women’s 1,500m, 3,000m and mass start competitions.

The local skater will hope to challenge the Czech Republic’s Martina Sáblíková, who will start the defence of the long-distance title she earned last year.

The Netherlands’ Esmee Visser and Russia’s Natalya Voronina are also expected to contend for podium positions in the long-distance events.

Russia’s Aleksandr Rumyantsev, the defending men’s long-distance champion, will expect to come under pressure from the Dutch team.

Russia's Aleksandr Rumyantsev will face Dutch competition in the long distance events ©Getty Images
Russia's Aleksandr Rumyantsev will face Dutch competition in the long distance events ©Getty Images

Rumyantsev is expected to face competition from world all-around speed skating champion Patrick Roest and four-time Olympic gold medallist Sven Kramer.

Japan’s Olympic champion Nao Kodaira, world champion Vanessa Herzog of Austria and the United States’ world record holder Brittany Bowe are expected to battle for success in the women’s 500 metres sprint event.

The men’s event will not feature defending champion Pavel Kulizhnikov due to injury, with Japan’s Tatsuya Shinhama tipped to star in the absence of the Russian. 

South Korea’s Bo-Reum Kim and Cheon-Ho Um are also due to begin the defence of their mass start titles.

The World Cup season will build towards the World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships, scheduled to take place in Salt Lake City during February.

The season will also feature the inaugural Four Continents Speed Skating Championships in Milwaukee, while Hamar will host the first combined ISU World Allround and ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championships.

The ISU World Cup Speed Skating Final in Heerenveen will include a mixed gender relay as demonstration event for the first time.