Speed skater Postma turns disappointment into delight
Dutch speed skater Ids Postma arrived in Nagano as an established star of his sport. A farmer by trade, he had won both the World and European titles the previous year and, earlier in the season, had become the first skater to break 1 minute 50 seconds in the 1,500m.
He was entered in three events in Nagano: 500m, 1,000m and 1,500m, but it was in the latter that he was expected to excel. His interest in the 500m was ended prematurely by a fall, but he went into his favourite event unfazed.
Racing last, he was paired with his great rival, Ådne Søndrål of Norway, who was a skater of great skill but persistent bad luck. Yet in this race it was Postma who suffered the misfortune, stumbling on the last lap to give Søndrål a small, but decisive, advantage. Both men went under the old world record, but it was the Norwegian who took gold, leaving Postma to settle for the silver.
He went into the 1,000m with only vague hopes of a medal. No Dutch skater had ever won Olympic gold at a distance below 1,500m, and Postma looked unlikely to end that sequence. He had never even raced over 1,000m in an international competition. His personal best ahead of the Games would barely have earned him a place in the top 10 in Nagano.
The early pacesetter was Japanese skater Hiroyasu Shimizu, who crossed the line in precisely 1 minute 11 seconds. Postma was up next, and beat that time by just over a third of a second, having produced a particularly fast finish.
He then sat back and watched, increasingly amazed as a succession of skaters went out faster than his time but then dropped off the pace.
The last to race was Postma’s compatriot Jan Bos, the favourite. He opened up a half-second lead early on, but couldn't match Postma's superb closing lap. As Bos crossed the line the clock stopped with him 0.07 seconds behind his compatriot. In the most unexpected of circumstances, Postma had earned himself an Olympic gold medal.Getty