Speed Skating - Super Swede Gustafson completes mission impossible
With one lap to go in the men’s 5,000m speed skating final, defending champion Tomas Gustafson seemed too far off the pace to be able to hold onto his. He had trained for four years for this race and now it was slipping away from him. He could have given up, settled for a place on the podium, and admitted that it wasn't his day. Instead, the Swede dug deep and found the reserve of inner strength that is so often the mark of an Olympic champion.
The time he had to beat had been set early on by Dutch skater Leo Visser. Several other skaters had pushed him hard before fading into the finish. Gustafson, by contrast, had never once been ahead of Visser's split times and with just 400m left he found himself almost a second behind. By rights, it should have been almost impossible to close such a big gap in such a short period of time.
What happened next has become part of speed skating legend. Gustafson produced one of the greatest single laps ever witnessed, not just clawing back a huge deficit but crossing the line more than a third of a second clear of Visser and breaking the Olympic record in the process. “I should write a poem,” he said afterwards; if he ever does, it will be an epic. His last lap was completed in 31.86 seconds, and it made him the first person to win two 5,000m titles since Norway’s Ivar Ballangrud more than half a century earlier.
Gustafson followed up by producing a magnificent performance in the 10,000m to win a second gold, this time shattering the world record as he won by a huge margin of nearly eight seconds. It was to prove his Olympic swansong, and the Swede retired with three golds and one silver medal to his name.