SOCHI, Russia – The most dominant team of the Winter Olympics struck again on Tuesday, securing the only kind of outcome they are satisfied with: a clean sweep.
Jorrit Bergsma claimed the gold medal in men's 10000-meter speedskating, flanked on the podium by compatriots Sven Kramer and Bob de Jong, as the all-conquering long track squad from the Netherlands continued to wreak havoc at the Adler Arena.
As Bergsma sat answering questions following his victory, he was stunned to be handed a cell phone by a team official. On the other end of the line – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who may need to look into getting a long-distance calling plan.
Any way you look at it, the Dutch speedskating performance has been incredible. They've secured six out of a possible nine golds on the track since the start of the Winter Olympics, and 19 out of 27 total medals.
Tuesday's sweep was their fourth of the Olympics. No nation, in every sport combined, has previously managed more than two in any Winter Olympics or more than five in its entire history.
Bergsma’s time of 12:44:45 shattered the previous Olympic record by more than 14 seconds and was enough to hold off Kramer, the man who was destined to win this event in 2010 before he stepped into the wrong lane and was disqualified. De Jong, the 2006 champion, captured third ahead of South Korea's reigning champion Lee Seung Hoon.
As of Tuesday night the Netherlands speedskating stars had compiled as many medals as the entire United States Olympic team. And as many as Russia. All this from a nation of 17 million people.
No wonder the Dutch brass band that has become a feature of long track at these Games kept on playing.
"It's unbelievable how many medals we will take from Sochi," said de Jong. "I'm really happy that I got one."
The Dutch have been so good that other countries are tinkering around with their schedule just to find a way to get on the podium. Their best chance of doing that is in the team pursuit event that closes out the Games. The Dutch, you see, can only field one team in that event, generously opening up a couple of podium spots for someone else.
The entire contingent of three Norwegians pulled out of the 10000m to save themselves for the pursuit; so did Russia's Ivan Skobrev, who won silver in 2010 but saw the writing on the wall here and took the probably sensible option to save his legs.
"I did not really take them into account as contenders beforehand," Kramer said dismissively. Of course he didn't, he knew the only threats were clad in orange, just like him.
Bergsma, world champion at the distance, was always going to be the biggest danger to Kramer, who went in as a strong favorite and world record holder. Skating in the second-to-last group, Bergsma gradually cranked up the pace and was absolutely flying by the end, rounding each of the final few laps in under 30 seconds.
Kramer looked set to overhaul him, as did Lee, with the final pairing setting off at a ferocious pace. Lee cracked first and fell way behind in the second half. Kramer tried to hang tough but simply couldn’t match the ferocious pace Bergsma had set in the closing stages. After being nearly four seconds ahead on the splits midway through the race, Kramer was reeled in and ultimately finished 4.57 seconds back.
Bergsma celebrated his first Olympic gold with delight, before addressing the question of why his nation has been so overwhelmingly good at these Games.
"The competition in Holland is really hard," Bergsma said. "We have a great generation of skaters. It is hard to even qualify for the Olympics, and that brings us to a higher level. Everything is falling into place."
Other nations have tried to offer excuses for their own failure and reasons for the dominance of the Dutch. For the Americans, it was their suits. Most though, have just been left to shake their heads and marvel at the excellence of it all.
Russian coach Konstantin Poltavets suggested that the Sochi ice surface is similar to that at the Netherlands’ training center in the Dutch city of Heerenveen.
"They know how to skate on this ice and they made the most of it," said Poltavets.
In reality, it looks like the men and women in orange could skate on sheet metal doused in olive oil and still post mind-blowing times.
This sweep added to others in the men's 5000 – where Kramer took gold, Jan Blokhuijsen silver and Bergsma bronze – plus the men's 500 and the women's 1500. In that last one the Dutch added a new level of hegemony, occupying the first four places.
And they're not yet done.
Still to come is the women’s 5000 and both men's and women's team pursuits. Getting three more golds is not only possible but probable.
The rest of the world is either getting desperate, or just resigned to the fact that more often than not they are shooting for second. Or, in some cases, fourth.
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