Up until he decided to skip December’s Berlin meet in favour of a Sochi-focused training camp in Italy, Sven Kramer had built up an impressive unbeaten record during the ISU 2013-2014 Speed Skating World Cup season. In Calgary (CAN), Salt Lake City (USA) and Astana (KAZ), the six-time world all-round champion collected 100 points – the score allotted to race winners – over his preferred distances of 5,000m and 10,000m, as well as in the team pursuit. This run of fine form has put the Dutchman in pole position to achieve his long-term aim of capturing three gold medals at Sochi 2014.
Mixed fortunes in Vancouver
His initial Olympic venture saw him narrowly miss out on gold. “I was 19 when I took part in the Turin Games in 2006,” he recounts. “I’d already beaten my own world record at 5,000m, so I was in with a good chance of going for gold. But I wasn’t quite ready; I didn’t feel as strong – physically and mentally – as I did in Vancouver or right now, in the run-up to Sochi, and the American skater Chad Hedrick did a really good job to beat me. I ended up with the silver medal. It was my first year as a professional speed skater, and I learned an awful lot from that first Olympic experience.”
Four years later in Vancouver, Kramer did taste success, but was nevertheless left with a sense of underachievement. “Those Games were really disappointing for me,” he says. “That maybe sounds a little strange, because I won gold in the 5,000m and for many people that’s the high point of their career, but I had expected more! I’d gone there to get three gold medals. It looked like the 10,000m was in the bag, but my team and I made a big mistake.” Following erroneous instructions from his coach, the Heerenveen-born athlete incorrectly changed lanes with eight laps remaining and was duly disqualified. “That experience will serve us well in Sochi,” says Kramer, who did add to his medal tally in Vancouver, helping the Netherlands claim bronze behind USA and Canada in the team pursuit.
An all-round record breaker
“When Sven puts his mind to something, he doesn’t stop till he achieves his goal,” says his mother Elli, in a film produced by IOC Partner Procter & Gamble for the “Raising an Olympian” series. Tellingly, that film features a clip of an 11-year-old Sven saying: “I want to become the best ice-skater in the world”.
After securing four all-round world titles (2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010) and nine single distance gold medals (three at 5,000m, three at 10,000m and three in the team pursuit) Kramer was forced to spend the 2010-2011 campaign on the treatment table after injuring his right thigh. He proved his resilience by returning to the oval stronger than ever, winning the World All-round Championship title again in 2012 and 2013 to take his overall tally to a record-breaking six. He also re-established himself as a frontrunner in his two individual events, becoming world champion at 5,000m in 2012 and 2013 and finishing second in the 10,000m in 2013. He also enjoyed success in the team pursuit, picking up World Championship golds with the Netherlands in 2012 and 2013.
Having accrued additional experience, strength, tactical nous and enthusiasm, Kramer now appears better prepared to accomplish his triple gold target. “I’m going for gold in the 5,000m, 10,000m and team pursuit in Sochi,” he confirms. “But I don’t want to talk about it too much. We’ll see what happens!”
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