Sochi Olympics: Dutch sweep 500-meter men’s speedskating
SOCHI, Russia — Everyone expected Olympic success from the Dutch speedskaters.
But this much — and this soon?
The Netherlands has claimed every men’s speedskating medal handed out in Sochi, following its 1-2-3 finish in the 5,000 meters Saturday with another 1-2-3 in Monday’s 500.
Michel Mulder took gold in 69.312 seconds, edging out Jan Smeekens by 12 thousandths of a second at 69.324. Mulder’s twin, Ronald, took bronze in 69.460.
The Netherlands, where speedskating reigns supreme among sports, has been the Yankees of modern Olympic speedskating. Before the Sochi Games, its 82 medals led all countries. In three days, it’s raised that total to 89, including three gold — world-record holder Sven Kramer in the men’s 5,000 on Saturday (also broke his Olympic record), Ireen Wust in the women’s 3,000 on Sunday and Mulder on Monday. Now with 30 gold medals, the Dutch have one more than the Americans.
“I don’t know what they’re doing but they’re doing it right,” said three-time U.S. Olympian Tucker Fredricks, who finished 26th with a time of 70.999. “They’re doing awesome. They’re owning the podium.”
Fredricks isn’t exaggerating. A disappointing day was marked by its favored skaters, including Fredricks, faltering.
The U.S.’ top performer was Shani Davis, who approached the event as a tuneup for his “babies,” Wednesday’s 1,000 and Saturday’s 1,500 where he has four Olympic medals from Turin and Vancouver and world records in each. Davis finished 24th in the 500.
Fredricks, the only World Cup medalist in the 500 for the U.S. this past season, is considered the U.S.’ best pure sprinter. Expectations were high after he finished 12th in Vancouver. The 29-year-old said he felt faster than his time but conceded the Dutch were simply too much.
“I wish I could’ve performed better,” said Fredricks. “I felt decent coming into today, but I guess a couple things didn’t go my way. But even then, those guys were flying. There’s not much anyone else can do.”
U.S. record holder Mitch Whitmore, 24, finished one spot behind Fredricks, clocking 71.06 seconds.
After Eric Heiden’s gold in 1980, the U.S.’ speedskating dry spell in the 500 lasted until 2002, when Casey FitzRandolph took gold and Derek Parra captured bronze. Four years later, Joey Cheek skated to gold in the 500.
But that success was a fraction of what the Dutch have accomplished.
Saturday’s sweep of the 5,000 was just the second ever and first since 1964. Monday’s gold, sliver and bronze haul in the 500 was the first in the event. Before Monday, the Netherlands had won just two medals, a silver in 1988 and a bronze in 1980, at 500 meters.
“We knew that it would be a historical moment for us and the Dutch speedskating team,” Michel Mulder said. “My long experience brought me here.”
Mulder, 27, may be the biggest threat to Davis on Wednesday in the 1,000. Davis will attempt to become the first American man to win the same event in three straight Olympics. Mulder is coming off a second straight overall victory at World Sprint Championships.
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