Schenk clinches triple gold
The Netherlands’ Ard Schenk had been one of the finest speed skaters in world since the late 1960s. He was already a world and European champion, but in two previous appearances at the Winter Games he had not managed to top the podium.
A silver medal in 1968 merely increased his determination to go one better this time around. Schenk began his assault on gold in the 5,000m, a distance in which he was the world record holder. He raced in the first pair, unfazed by the snow that was still falling on the outdoor track. He finished in 7 minutes 23.61 seconds, which was comfortably enough to secure victory as nobody else could get within four seconds of his time.
Next up was the 500m, in which his chances seemed far less assured, although his confidence was now soaring. He started in the fifth pair but then suffered an early fall, wiping out his chances of a medal.
The following day he was back on the track in the 1,500m, which was generally regarded as his strongest event. Again, he held the world record and when on form he looked unbeatable. Sure enough, his time of 2 minutes 2.96 seconds was good enough to win gold by more than a second.
Schenk’s final event – and his fourth in four days - was the 10,000m. If he was tiring, it wasn’t showing. Norway's Sten Stensen set an early benchmark with a time of 15 minutes 7.08 seconds. A couple of pairs later, Schenk’s compatriot Kees Verkerk went nearly two and a half seconds quicker, setting a benchmark that would be very tough to beat.
Skating in the 12th pair, Schenk was ahead of the pace from the very start. At the halfway mark, he was a massive four seconds quicker than Verkerk's time and that margin gradually widened over the following 4,000m. Despite allowing himself to ease off slightly in the final kilometre, his finishing time of 15 minutes 1.35 seconds still put him a comfortable 3.35 seconds clear of his Dutch rival.
Schenk returned home from Sapporo with three gold medals and was hailed as a national hero. His performances so entranced the Dutch public that he even had a flower named after him!