Uytdehaage comes of age
After a long period battling for recognition among his country’s crop of talented speed skaters, Jochem Uytdehaage began to hit form a year before the 2002 Games. He was in his mid-twenties by the time he won the Dutch title and began to feature regularly in international competitions. Suddenly, he was winning a host of major titles.
In January 2002, he won the European Championship title, which established him as one of the favourites for Salt Lake City. His Olympic debut came in the 5,000m. Even before he took to the ice it was clear that it would take a very fast time to win. The Olympic record had been broken in the fifth pair by Germany's little-known Jens Boden, a skater who had never even finished in the top ten in a World Cup race.
That was followed by another shock as the USA’s Derek Perra, a former inline skater and 1,500m specialist, broke the world record.
Uytdehaage knew he would have to lower the record again if he was going to win gold. Amazingly, that's exactly what he did, going out fast and then matching and even bettering Perra's lap times. In the end, the Dutchman won with ease, beating the American by more than three seconds to set a stunning new world record.
The fortunes of the two skaters were reversed in the 1,500m, when Uytdehaage broke the world record only to see Perra lower it again and take the gold, but the Dutchman’s time remained good enough for silver. He took his wonderful form into the 10,000m, where he produced a masterclass of speed, control and endurance, not only breaking the world record for the third event in a row, but also becoming the first athlete to complete the distance in under 13 minutes, as he won by a massive 12-second margin.
It was to prove his only appearance at the Winter Games. Uytdehaage's form slowly faded after that, and he failed to qualify for Turin 2006.