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Dutch clinch 22nd speedskating medal in Sochi

Friday, February 21, 2014
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Coach Arie Koops gives a thumbs-up to Dutch speedskaters Sven Kramer, front, Koen Verweij, center, and Jan Blokhuijsen, rear, during their men's speedskating team pursuit quarterfinal race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014.
Coach Arie Koops gives a thumbs-up to Dutch speedskaters Sven Kramer, front, Koen Verweij, center, and Jan Blokhuijsen, rear, during their men's speedskating team pursuit quarterfinal race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014.

— One orange-clad team set an Olympic record and another assured the Netherlands of at least a 22nd speedskating medal at the Sochi Games.

In short, it was just another day at the big oval for the Dutch.

And even without a gold medal to skate for, their two pursuit teams dominated with such ease it seemed they hardly broke a sweat. "We have nothing yet," said Sven Kramer after reaching the final. "Well, yeah, we have a guaranteed silver," highlighting that only Dutch standard in Sochi is gold.

It is something traditional powers like the Americans and Norwegians can only dream of. They joined Germany in the knowledge they will not win a single speedskating medal in Sochi.

Both American teams were immediately eliminated in their quarterfinal, completing the first U.S. speedskating shutout in 30 years.

The American men's trio had an awful start when Jonathan Kuck took too long to catch up with the two ahead of him and never recovered. "We were out of sync," Shani Davis said. "Probably we didn't practice it enough."

The Dutch meanwhile, have been dedicated to the team pursuit since the summer, with lots of practice. It showed. They twice routed opposition, first France, then Poland, to get to their first final in the event since it was introduced in 2006.

Sven Kramer, Jan Blokhuijsen and Koen Verweij coasted past France by 8.70 seconds in the quarterfinals, then went even faster in the semifinals. Nearly catching Poland and just missing an Olympic record, the Dutch won by a staggering 11.30 after eight loops around the oval.

They will face South Korea in Saturday's final. Unless the Dutch make a silly mistake — which has happened before — it seems no one can deny them gold.

In that knowledge, Kramer made it clear nothing was assured yet. "We'll have to watch out because the Koreans really set a sharp time," Kramer said. "Shows they will be really good for the final."

Still, the difference is huge, just looking at the skaters. Kramer already won gold in the 5,000 and silver in the 10,000, Verweij was .003 seconds short of gold in the 1,500 and Blokhuijsen took silver in the 5,000. The South Korean team has yet to win a single medal.

Lee Seung-hoon of South Korea knew what he was up against. "Whatever happens, we will at least have a silver," he said.

The Americans will not even have bronze and their elimination assured them the first medal-less Olympics in speedskating since the 1984 Sarajevo Games.

The Dutch are having their best-ever games, and even if the women are not yet assured of another medal since they only had one qualifying run, it is tough to see who will get close to them.

Ireen Wust, Lotte van Beek and Jorien ter Mors gave every indication that they'll make it 23 medals for the orange wave, setting an Olympic record of 2 minutes, 58.61 seconds while comfortably beating the United States by 3.60 in the quarterfinals.

Like the men, the Dutch women have never won the event. The women lost their quarterfinal pairing to eventual gold medalist Germany in both 2006 and 2010, forcing them to settle for fifth- and sixth-place finishes.

Friday's smooth Olympic record race made Wust, who already has a gold and three silvers in these Olympics, think back of the last failure at the 2010 Vancouver Games. "It makes me think 'What in God's name were we doing in Vancouver'?"

Two-time defending champion Germany didn't even quality for the women's team pursuit in Sochi, and there appears to be no one who can halt the Dutch.

The only consolation for the other countries at Adler Arena — the Netherlands can win only one medal in each of the team pursuits.

So at least there will be some other medals to go around.

 
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