Men’s speed skating: Dutch turn the Adler Arena orange
The Dutch claimed five of the six men’s speed skating gold medals on offer at Sochi’s Adler Arena, and an incredible three clean sweeps of the podiums as they underlined their dominance of long-track.
8 February 2014: New Olympic 5,000m record as defending champion Kramer tops all-Dutch podium
Sven Kramer completed a successful defence of his 5,000m speed skating title, setting a new Olympic record in the process. With King Willem-Alexander of Netherlands among those watching at the Adler Arena, Kramer’s fellow Dutchmen Jan Blokhuijsen (6:15.71) and Jorrit Bergsma (6:16.66) claimed silver and bronze respectively, to complete an impressive 1-2-3 on the 100th ever Olympic speed skating podium.
In a day of landmarks, Kramer became only the second male speed skater in history to win back-to-back 5,000m titles, emulating Tomas Gustafson (SWE) in 1984 and 1988. It was the latest triumph for the Dutchman over distance he has dominated since 2012, winning 15 consecutive competitions.
The defending champion got off to a slow start and with six laps to go it appeared his relaxed approach could cost him, as he found himself 1.77 seconds off the pace. But in the following three laps his power and technique came into their own, and he edged 1.93 seconds ahead.
Incredibly, at the bell, he had extended that lead to almost seven seconds. His final time of 6:10.76 was a new Olympic record, and put him 8.75 seconds clear of his compatriot Blokhuijsen.
Local favourite Denis Yuskov, who won the men's 1,500m at the 2013 World Single Distance Championships at the Adler Arena, looked as if he might provide the host nation with its first medal of Sochi 2014. The Russian had notched the fastest time of the day before the three Dutchmen stepped onto the ice.
10 Febuary 2014: Mulder brothers lead another Dutch sweep in 500m
Dutch speed skater Michel Mulder saw off a fierce challenge from his Dutch team-mates to win the 500m Olympic speed skating gold as the Netherlands swept the podium for the second time at Sochi 2014.
Mulder, 27, won with a combined time from his two races of 69.31 seconds, beating compatriot Jan Smeekens by just 0.01 seconds in a thrilling climax. Meanwhile, Ronald Mulder, Michel’s twin brother, took bronze in a time of 69.46 seconds.
Smeekens led the eventual winner by 0.04 sec after the first race, and with Michel Mulder only racing in the 19th pair, the stage was set for a nail-biting finale.
When he crossed the line it took several seconds for him to register that he had won the Olympic title. When the final result flashed up he let out a roar of triumph. “When I crossed the line I just didn't know. Then I saw I’d won and I couldn't believe it,” he explained. “Now I have won everything there is to win. After all this work, I'm the Olympic champion, I can't believe it.”
Surprisingly it was the first ever 500m Olympic title for a country that has long been one of the world’s speed skating powerhouses.
Silver medallist Smeekens was philosophical: “At first I had mixed feelings because it was so close. I looked at the scoreboard and I thought that I'd won, and seconds later I saw I didn't. But now I have to be happy with my second place. It was a very stressful day, and now I've won an Olympic medal. It's unbelievable,” he concluded.
12 February 2014: Groothuis glides to gold in men’s 1,000m
Former world champion Stefan Groothuis claimed the men's 1,000m title, taking the Dutch gold medal haul at the Adler Arena to four out of a possible five. The 32-year-old beat Denny Morrison (CAN) into second place, while fellow Dutchman Michel Mulder, who won 500m gold earlier in the week, added a bronze to his personal haul. Groothuis clocked 1 minute 8.39 seconds with Morrison in 1: 8.43 and Mulder clocking 1:8.74.
“When I started, I didn't even know what the best time was and when I crossed the finish line, I was really surprised. It was the best time I've ever skated on a low-altitude track,” said the new Olympic champion.
It was the culmination of a phenomenal two years for Groothuis, after taking time out from competition in 2011 before returning to win the World Cup and the world championship title. It was a first ever medal for Groothuis at his third attempt over 1,000m, after he finished eighth at Turin 2006 and fourth in Vancouver.
“It's great, but it's also very strange,” he reflected. “The last few days I've been thinking about it and suddenly I’m Olympic champion. It's strange but I will get used to it.”
15 February 2014: Brodka claims 1,500m speed skating gold by a fraction
Poland's Zbigniew Brodka won a dramatic tussle for 1,500m gold, edging out Dutchman Koen Verweij by just three-thousandths of a second in a photo finish, while Canada's Denny Morrison won bronze.
Brodka, skating in the 17th pair, crossed the line in 1 minute 45.00 seconds, setting a benchmark that looked virtually unbeatable with just three more pairs left to race. However, the Dutchman, who went in the 20th and final pair, strained every sinew in the last few laps, and when he crossed the line the clock showed a dead heat.
After about 20 seconds of nervous waiting it was confirmed that Brodka had won by just 0.003 seconds in 1:45.006, denying the Dutch for the first and only time in the men’s events at the Adler Arena. Brodka - the first ever Polish speed skater to win Olympic gold - raised his arms in triumph, while Verweij was left devastated.
“I can't believe this. The world championships and the Olympic Games -- those were my dreams, and I now I've got the gold medal,” said the 29-year-old Pole. “I was nervous before the race. After the finish I didn't know it right away. When I saw I had won, it was an unbelievable feeling.”
Meanwhile, silver medallist Verweij, 23, struggled to contain his disappointment. “It wasn't what I wanted, it wasn't enough. I should be happy winning silver but this feels like a huge loss,” he said.
The USA’s Shani Davis, a two-time Olympic champion over 1,000m, had another disappointing day, finishing 11th.
18 February 2014: Bergsma spearheads another Orange 1-2-3 in the 10,000m
Jorrit Bergsma took gold in the men's 10,000m as the Netherlands swept their fourth speed skating podium in Sochi. Bergsma crossed the line in a new Olympic record time of 12 minutes 44.45 seconds, ahead of Sven Kramer (12:49.02) and Bob De Jong (13:07.19).
“It is a fantastic feeling,” said the winner. “I knew with my current shape I could do it, but these are the Olympic Games. You have to cope with the pressure and control your nerves.” The 28-year-old skated in the penultimate pair and had to watch as Kramer, racing with defending champion Lee Seung-Hoon (KOR), went last.
Kramer, who had already taken 5,000m gold, was on world record pace halfway through his race. However, he faded in the latter stages, to take silver. “I knew with a good race I would win here,” said Bergsma. “I watched Sven Kramer. He held on for a very long time, but finally he broke.”
Bergsma felt he had got his tactics spot on: “I wanted to go fast, but I didn't want to push it too much. I wanted to keep skating. I was able to do that until the end, and that is a fantastic feeling.”
Kramer's silver took his tally to six, equalling the Dutch record for the Winter Games, but he admitted he had his heart set on another gold. “I knew when I started that Jorrit Bergsma set a really fast time, he just did a really good job,” said Kramer. “My race just was not good enough,” he added. "I couldn't find the rhythm and I couldn't find the flow. I'm in good shape, but today too many little things were going wrong. Being satisfied with silver is not my view on top sport. That is not why I train, that is not why I race. I race to win.”
Meanwhile bronze medallist De Jong became the first male speed skater to win at least one medal at four different editions of the Winter Olympic Games. At 37, he also became the oldest male speed skater to win an Olympic medal in 86 years.
22 February 2014: Flying Dutchmen break Olympic record to claim team pursuit gold
Dutch trio Jan Blokhuijsen, Sven Kramer and Koen Verweij stormed to gold in the men’s pursuit, finishing over three seconds clear of the Korean team in the A Final, to set a new Olympic record time of 3 minutes 37.71 seconds.
Blokhuijsen said the men's team had actually made the pursuit their primary focus over the previous four years.
“This was an amazing race, the best we've ever skated, the three of us,” he said. “This is my first gold and now I want an individual gold,” he added. “In four years I hope we can dominate sport like we did this time.”
Koen Verweij added: “This is what we have worked for, so it makes me really happy. For me personally it has been a difficult two weeks, especially after just missing out on gold in the 1,500m. But this is just great,” he said. “We live for the sport, we work very well together. We give everything. This is just our thing.”
For Kramer meanwhile it was his seventh Olympic medal, taking him past Rintje Ritsma’s record for a Dutch male athlete at the Winter Games. “It took us three Olympic Games to win the team pursuit, so I'm happy we finally won it. It was our best race ever,” said Kramer.
In the B Final, Poland beat defending champions Canada to take the bronze.