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Close skating race: .003 makes the difference

Saturday, February 15, 2014
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Silver medalist Koen Verweij of the Netherlands grabs his hair when the race was declared a tie with gold medalist Poland's Zbigniew Brodka in the men's 1,500-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. Verweij later was later declared silver, losing by three thousandth of a second.
Silver medalist Koen Verweij of the Netherlands grabs his hair when the race was declared a tie with gold medalist Poland's Zbigniew Brodka in the men's 1,500-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. Verweij later was later declared silver, losing by three thousandth of a second.

— In Alpine skiing, Koen Verweij would be an Olympic champion. But he is a speedskater, where just one thousandth of a second can make the difference between gold and silver medals.

In one of the closest Olympic speedskating races in history, Zbigniew Brodka of Poland beat the Dutchman by .003 over 1,500 meters Saturday, a margin so tiny that the scoreboard long gave it as a dead heat before finally pushing Verweij back into silver.

"We are talking pushing your skate an inch ahead at the finish," Verweij said, still dazed at the thought well after the race. "If I have to think of this tonight, I could get very sick."

Early this week Slovenia's Tina Maze and Switzerland's Dominique Gisin were each awarded the downhill gold with identical times of 1 minute, 41.57 seconds.

Unfortunately for Verweij, speedskating officials can track times to thousandths, not just hundredths of a second.

They clocked him at 1 minute 45.009 and Brodka at 1:45.006.

Brodka, who sat in the infield as Verweij was racing in the final pair, said he would not have it any other way.

"There should only be one Olympic champion. Even if I would have lost, there should only be one winner," Brodka said. With his victory assured, that was easy for him to say.

Verweij was stunned into silence.

At first, both skaters were given the same time, broken down to hundredths of a second, both with a "1'' beside their name.

Verweij's coach Gerard Kemkers knew the divider was coming and watched entranced the number beside his racer's name.

"I kept on watching that "1," thinking what happens with that 1? Does it stay 1? Does it stay 1? Does it stay 1? Does it stay 1? Does it stay 1? Does it stay 1? Does it stay 1? Does it stay 1? Naaaah!!! 2," he said in a staccato voice.

When it switched to a "2," Verweij himself appeared to scream an expletive and shook his head in disbelief, his long blond hair flowing behind him as he glided, exhausted, around the track.

"I saw it was the same time, and I was hoping that the time would fall my way," he said. "Then I saw the Polish flags go up, that didn't mean too much good."

It was the second time the Dutch were in an incredibly close finish. On Monday, sprint teammates Michel Mulder and Jan Smeekens were separated by only .012 seconds following two 500 heats.

It was the closest 1,500 since a dead heat in 1960, but that was when times only were broken down to tenths of a second.

At the 1984 Sarajevo games, things got tight too, over two long-distance events. In the 5,000 Tomas Gustafson of Sweden beat Soviet skater Igor Malkov by .02 seconds. In the 10,000, Malkov got back at the Swede, beating him by .05 seconds.

At least, Verweij has another shot at gold in the team pursuit next weekend when the Dutch are favored to add another title.

That was no consolation on Saturday.

"We must do our utmost to get a smile on Koen's face," said Kemkers.

 
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