Late bloomer Veldkamp restores Dutch speed skating pride
The Netherlands abiding love affair with speed skating was as passionate as ever in Albertville, but it had been 16 years since a Dutch skater had taken an Olympic gold, and some questioned whether the country even deserved to be regarded as a powerhouse of the sport.
That meant added pressure on the Dutch skating team. But in the case of Bart Veldkamp that pressure served as a source of inspiration. Veldkamp was a long-distance specialist, whose best results had come in the 5,000m and 10,000m. He was also something of a late developer – at 24 he was making his Olympic debut.
In both the 1,500m and 5,000m he finished a creditable fifth, meaning that he could go into the 10,000m confident if not rated as a potential winner. He faced tough competition from Norwegian pair Geir Kalrstad and Johann Olav Koss, while Veldkamp's Dutch team-mate Robert Vunderink was also in fine form. And it was Vunderink who set the early benchmark, with a time of 14 minutes 22.92 seconds.
Karlstad bettered that with apparent east, taking almost five seconds off the time to beat. And then Koss went faster still, clocking a time of 14 minutes 14.58 seconds, which looked as if it would be very tough to beat.
However, Veldkamp had one clear advantage: having watched his rivals' progress, he knew the split times he had to beat at each stage of the race, and so he set out with real purpose. Gradually the Dutchman edged ahead of Koss's time until he was a full five seconds in front. He then decided to play it safe, slowing a little, but still crossed the line with two seconds to spare.
Veldkamp celebrated his victory in style, spraying champagne over reporters. Remarkably, he just failed to qualify for that year’s Summer Olympics as a track cyclist. He would go on to take Belgian nationality, winning a bronze medal in the 5,000m at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano. He competed in his final Games in 2006, aged 38.