Bladerunner Romme storms into the record books
In the speed skating events in Nagano, a revolutionary new type of skate was being used for the first time. The back of the blade was detached from the boot, with the front connecting through a hinge. These modifications made a huge difference, allowing skaters to exert more power, and go faster. It was a profound step forward for the sport, and sent records tumbling.
Nobody had adapted to the new boots better than Dutch skater Gianni Romme. He had already broken the 5,000m world record and had impressed during the World Cup. He was now going for the 5,000m and 10,000m double, and started as favourite for both.
In the shorter of the two events he was up against a strong field. His Dutch team-mates Rintje Ritsma and Bob de Jong were both fast, while Norway's Kjell Storelid had won on the World Cup circuit and former Dutch athlete Bart Veldkamp, who was now representing Belgium, was also a strong contender.
Veldkamp set the early pace, laying down the gauntlet by breaking Romme's world record. In the next pair, Ritsma lowered the record by a further 0.07 seconds.
Romme and Storelid were drawn together in the final pairing. The Dutchman went off at an incredible pace. After just 1,000m, he was already more than two seconds ahead of Ritsma's mark, and by the halfway point that gap had grown to four seconds. Short of a mishap, victory seemed assured, but could he regain the world record? The answer was a resounding ‘yes’! Romme crossed the line in 6.22.20 – a full six seconds clear of Ritsma's short-lived world record.Getty
It was more than a week later when Romme returned to the ice in search of his second title in the 10,000m. The expectation on him now was enormous, and this race proved even more spectacular than the 5,000m. Veldkamp broke the existing world record time, but still wasn’t fast enough to earn a medal, as the three Dutch skaters swept the podium positions.
And topping the podium again was Romme, who produced another memorable display to smash the world record by 15 seconds. De Jong and Ritsma took silver and bronze, but it was Romme's second gold medal and world record that was the talk of Nagano. Many were predicting that his world record would stand for years – in fact, Romme himself smashed it by another seven seconds just a few weeks later!