Ireen Wüst was confirmed as queen of the speed skating events at Sochi 2014, claiming two golds and three silvers, leading another incredible showing by Dutch skaters at the Adler Arena, which also saw Jorien ter Mor’s audacious switch from short track to long track rewarded with a gold in the 1,500m and a new Olympic record. The Dutch didn’t have it all their own way: Korean Lee Sang-Hwa underlined her status as the fastest female skater over 500m, retaining her title in record-breaking style, while Martina Sablikova secured another 1,500m title. Meanwhile the biggest surprise of the programme came from Zhang Hong of China, who stunned the favourites to clinch gold in the 1,000m.
9 February 2014: Flying Dutchwoman Wüst reclaims 3,000m title
Ireen Wüst (NED) secured gold in the 3,000m with a scintillating display of power and speed at the Adler Arena. The Dutchwoman bagged her third Olympic gold medal in a time of 04:00.34, over one and a half seconds faster than close rival Martina Sablikova (CZE). There was also joy for host nation Russia, which celebrated its first medal of Sochi 2014 after Olga Graf put in a lifetime-best 4:03.47 to claim a deserved bronze.
Sablikova, who won this event by two seconds at Vancouver 2010, looked likely to repeat the feat after clocking a formidable time of 04:01.95, but had to settle for silver after a quite devastating riposte from the 27 year-old Wüst. The Dutchwoman set an exhilarating pace from the start of her outing, the penultimate run of Sunday’s contest, and her position at the top of the podium was rarely in much doubt during a controlled and confident skate.
Victory ensured that Wüst regained the 3,000m title she won in Turin eight years earlier, and brought up a hat-trick of Olympic triumphs after her 1,500m win in Vancouver. It also made her the joint most successful Dutch athlete in Winter Games history. “I’ve now won gold three times in a row, I can't believe it," she said. “The pressure was enormous. I gave everything. I did not focus on a specific time, I just decided to skate a consistent race. Actually, because of that, I didn't start very well.”
11 February 2014: Lee breaks Olympic record to take 500m gold
Favourite Lee Sang-Hwa of Republic of Korea smashed the Olympic record en route to a superb defence of her 500m speed skating title. The Korean took gold with a combined time of 74.70 seconds from her two races, putting her comfortably ahead of Dutch rival Margot Boer (75.48), who took bronze.
Lee amassed a lead of 0.15 seconds in her first race and, going out in the final pair second time around, looked well-placed to extend her advantage. She did so with a record time of 37.28 seconds, ensuring that her total time also entered the Olympic history books. It was another resounding success for the 24 year-old, who had won her seven World Cup races going into Sochi. “I was determined to get the gold medal for Korea,” she said.
Her victory made her just the third athlete in history to win multiple gold medals in this event, joining the USA’s Bonnie Blair – who won it three times – and Canada’s Catriona Le May Doan. Victory capped a remarkable few months for two-time world champion Lee, who broke the 500m record no fewer than four times in 2013.
13 February 2014: Zhang springs a turbo-charged surprise in the 1,000m
Chinese outsider Zhang Hong powered to women's 1,000m gold, as all of the pre-event favourites struggled to match her blistering pace. The 25-year-old, racing in the seventh pair, clocked one minute 14.02 seconds, but was then forced to endure an agonising wait as a further 11 pairs of skaters completed the 2.5 lap course. Ireen Wüst (NED) claimed silver in a time of 1:14.69, while her compatriot Margot Boer (1:14.90) won bronze.
"Now I am super happy,” said Zhang at the finish. “It's hard to accept the reality that I have won the 1,000m. “I didn't care what time I went on the ice. I'm competing with myself. I was very nervous as I was waiting and I don't think anybody could have understood how I felt waiting,” she added. “I won, I won. Tomorrow is my coach's birthday so I want to give him the prize of me winning the 1,000m as a present!”
Zhang admitted she had not expected to have such cause for celebration, and had originally planned to head home straight after finishing her event. “I was planning on going back to China tomorrow but now I think I need to reschedule my ticket,” revealed Zhang, whose season’s best World Cup performance in the 1,000m had been sixth.
A number of skaters threatened Zhang's time during their skates but could not sustain the required pace until the finish line. The much fancied Heather Richardson (USA) could only finish seventh, 1.21 seconds off the pace. World record holder Brittany Bowe (USA) took to the ice in the penultimate pair but could make no impression on Zhang’s time, finishing eighth.
16 February 2014: Ter Mors steps up to smash Olympic 1,500m speed skating record and spearhead a historic Dutch 1-2-3-4
The Netherlands’ Jorien ter Mors set a new Olympic record to take women's 1,500m gold, as Dutch athletes swept the top four places, underlining their dominance of the speed skating in Sochi. Ter Mors - racing in the ninth pair - set a new Olympic benchmark of one minute 53.51 seconds that none of the other skaters could touch.
Defending champion Ireen Wüst, who had already won the 3,000m, added another silver to the one she took in the 1,000m, finishing 0.58 seconds behind ter Mors, while Lotte van Beek took bronze with a time of 1:54.54. Marrit Leenstra finished fourth to complete a perfect afternoon for the Dutch.
With nine pairs still to go, the 24-year-old ter Mors faced a long and anxious wait as her rivals chased down her time. “I'm not used to these kinds of situations,” admitted an emotional ter Mors. “In short track you know immediately if you have won. Now I had to wait and it was very nerve-wracking. I never expected to win gold here, but I had a very good race. Technically it was good. I kept pace, I skated in a compact position, it was just about keeping skating,” she added. “At the finish line I looked up and I was first.”
Her compatriot Wüst, who had started the race as hot favourite, was philosophical about missing out on gold. “I tried to be satisfied because Jorien was just the best today,” said the 2010 gold medallist. “My race was 90 percent and I needed 100 percent to win the gold,” added the silver medallist, who equalled the Dutch record of six Olympic Winter Games medals held by Rintje Ritsma.
It was the first time that athletes from the same country had taken the top four places in any event at a Winter Games since East Germany achieved the feat in the men's luge in Sapporo in 1972.
19 February 2014: Sablikova keeps Dutch challenge in Czech to retain 5,000m crown
Czech skater Martina Sablikova kept the Netherlands’ Ireen Wüst at bay to retain the 5,000m title. Racing in the penultimate pair with Wüst, Sablikova crossed the line in six minutes 51.54 seconds. The Dutch skater finished 2.74 seconds behind her to take the silver, while her team-mate, Carien Kleibeuker completed a fairytale comeback to the rink to claim the bronze in six minutes 55.66 seconds.
“After winning gold in Vancouver, it's great to win it here in Sochi as well, and this time in front of all my family,” said the 26-year-old Czech. “They came here today especially for this race, and it's just great to win.” Sablikova timed her tactics to perfection, allowing Wüst to make the early running, before slowly pulling back to overtake her rival with three laps to go. The Czech won both the 3,000m and 5,000m titles in 2010, but had in the previous week ceded her title in the shorter distance to Wüst, having to content herself with silver.
Meanwhile, the 27-year old Dutchwoman took her Sochi 2014 medal count to four, having also won silver medals in the 1,000m and 1,500m. “This feels totally different from my silver medal in the 1,500m," said the Dutch athlete. “Now I feel like I have won silver. In the 1,500 it felt like losing gold.”
Kleibeuker, who had made an impressive comeback to competitive speed skating after taking time out to focus on being a mother, was left pinching herself after taking her place on the podium. “It's actually hilarious. It is just unbelievable. I do this sport for fun and when I got this opportunity, the drive became more and more and it's just great to win a medal,” said the 35-year old, who was watched by her young daughter.
22 February 2014: Anything you can do… Dutch women match men with pursuit gold and new Olympic record
Minutes after watching their male counterparts take the pursuit title and set a new Olympic record, the Dutch women’s team stepped onto the ice at the Adler Arena and repeated the feat. The men had won by a margin of three seconds for their new record. That was impressive enough… But then the women’s trio of Marrit Leenstra, Jorien ter Mors and Ireen Wüst did just the same in their A Final against Poland, but in even more emphatic style.
In taking gold, the Dutch lowered the Olympic benchmark to two minutes 58.05 seconds, which was a full 7.5 seconds faster than the beaten finalists.
For Ireen Wüst in particularly the win completed a hugely successful Games, following her gold in the 3,000m and three silvers in the 1,000m, 1,500m and 5,000m. It also took her overall Olympic medal tally to eight, a record for women’s speed skating. “It's an incredible feeling and I can't really believe it yet,” said Wüst after the race. “In these Olympics alone I have five medals. It's a little bit crazy.”
Katarzyna Bachleda-Curus, Katarzyna Wozniak and Luiza Zlotkowska completed a successful afternoon on the Adler Arena for Poland, whose men claimed a pursuit bronze.
Russia (Olga Graf, Yekaterina Lobysheva and Yuliya Skokova) won the B Final against Japan to take the bronze, in a fast time of two minutes 59.73 seconds.