Longest skating race destined for Dutch triple
SOCHI, Russia (AP) Sven Kramer has redemption on his mind as he bids to bounce back from the dumbfounding error that cost him an Olympic gold medal four years ago.
This time, the Dutch are expecting not one, but all three medals in the 10,000 meters, the longest race in speedskating. So most of the pressure will be applied from within the team on Tuesday, with Bob de Jong and Jorrit Bergsma among the leading contenders in what is expected to be a fourth medal sweep for the Netherlands at the Sochi Games.
The Dutch team has won 16 of 24 medals so far in Sochi, and has been relentless in the pursuit of more.
The 10,000 always was going to be a Dutch dominated race, but it became even more so when Russian favorite Ivan Skobrev and the entire Norwegian team withdrew.
''They are simply not good enough,'' Kramer said of the Norwegians. That leaves Belgian Bart Swings and defending champion Lee Seung-hoon of South Korea as the only realistic challengers to an all-orange podium.
''There are not a lot of people at the top,'' Kramer said. Lee won Olympic gold at Vancouver in 2010 when Kramer was sent into the wrong lane by his coach on a changeover when the gold medal seemed wrapped up.
It has left Kramer focused on the 10,000 so much that he even gave up a shot at gold in the 1,500 to be sure to be at his best on Tuesday.
He successfully defended his 5,000 title on the opening weekend of the games, when Bergsma finished third in a Dutch sweep of the medals. Beyond the 10,000, Kramer is also expected to lead the Dutch to team pursuit gold on Saturday, hoping to catch the golden triple that eluded him four years ago.
For two seasons now, Bergsma and De Jong have been his toughest rivals over 10,000.
''The 10K is about the Dutch,'' said Kevin Crockett, a South Korea coach, ''the Dutch have it to lose.''
De Jong is the freethinker among the three of the Dutch trio in the 10K, plotting his own trail to the long distance race. He even went up to the mountains for several days because he wanted to chill out with some friends on the Dutch ski team.
At 37, he could become the oldest male speed skater in 86 years to win an Olympic medal. He won silver over the distance in Nagano 16 years ago and added gold at the 2006 Turin Games.
Bergsma beat Kramer to win the 10,000 world championships in Sochi last year and is considered the main challenger to the title.
The dearth of non-Dutch challengers takes away from an event many consider boring to start out with. It is a race of 25 laps which statisticians love for the changing lap times but which can be excruciatingly long if riders are off the pace quickly.
The fact that Skobrev and the Norwegians withdrew at the last moment only shapes to make it worse.
Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert