SOCHI, Russia – It is hard to know what the most amazing thing about Jorien ter Mors is. Perhaps it is that she competed in two different sports on consecutive days. Or that she is knocking on the door of being the first woman ever to win medals in different sports at the same Winter Olympics. Or that she smashed a world-class field on Sunday in an event that is not even her specialty.
Ter Mors might be the greatest pure athlete of this, or maybe any, Winter Games. She shed tears of joy after blitzing to victory in the 1500 meters of long-track speedskating, little more than 24 hours after weeping with sadness when she finished fourth by a few agonizing inches over the same distance in short-track speedskating.
Those emotional moments of weakness, when she pays tribute to and thinks about her father Henk, who died of cancer last year, are the only times you will see her crack. On the ice, ter Mors is a true warrior.
Ter Mors' performance on Sunday was astonishing in so many ways. She competed in only three major long-track races in preparation for the Olympics, doing just enough to squeeze her way onto the dominant Netherlands team that has conquered all here at Adler Arena.
While the two sports are similar, they are not the same. Long track is you vs. the clock. Short track is you vs. four other competitors in a roller-derby-style free-for-all where an ability to navigate through traffic is as important as speed. To master that takes practice – lots – none of which translates to long track.
Ter Mors is the only skater competing in both disciplines at this Olympics. Latvian Harold Silovs tried it four years ago at Vancouver but failed to win a single medal. And American Shani Davis skated in both disciplines as a junior, but never found much short-track success beyond that. Probably because training for one leaves little time for the other.
Ter Mors trained on the oval only twice and wasn't particularly happy with either session. The rest of the time she was a full-time short-tracker with virtually every practice over the past four years, every moment of her time, dedicated toward the more frenetic, combative form of speedskating.
"If I have to choose, then my heart is really going after short track," ter Mors said. "I worked my [butt] off for the little track. That's why it's more close to me."
Sunday saw another long-track clean sweep for the Netherlands, which has now won 16 of 24 medals available on the oval. Favorite Ireen Wust finished second and Lotte Van Beek came in third. To cap it all off, Marrit Leenstra wound up fourth, making this the first time a nation has claimed the top four spots in a Winter Olympic event since East German lugers in 1972.
Ter Mors is a woman that probably won't be remembered as one of the stars of these Games, at least not with an American audience. Long-track speedskating doesn't elicit that kind of response from a U.S. public that watches what NBC tells it to, and it has dipped even further down the radar thanks to the ineptitude of the faltering American team.
But ter Mors deserves to be recognized as a true ironwoman of sports. She is on the verge of accomplishing something that is not only unprecedented but could become historic if she can improve on her short-track finishes of fourth (1500) and sixth (500) and make the podium in Tuesday's 1000. Next Saturday, she is virtually assured of a gold when the Dutch long-track pursuit team competes as an overwhelming favorite.
Despite Sunday's gold medal, despite the incredible time of 1:53:51, breaking an Olympic record that was set at altitude, ter Mors has no plans to shift focus to long track.
"My preparation is on the short track," she said. "Two weeks ago on long track I did a test race and I did a training session on Tuesday, that's it. I don't want to change a lot and I don't want to do too much on long track."
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She doesn't need to, apparently.
Ter Mors prefers the buzz of short track – the fact you can crash and have no control over it, the fact you are directly coming up against rivals in human form rather than a clock. She likes it because it was the sport her dad encouraged her in the most.
"I am really happy to be the first woman from the Netherlands to compete in two sports," ter Mors said. "To be the first one is really an honor. Normally when I go over the finish line I know if I have won something or not. This was harder."
Things didn't get any easier for the struggling U.S. team, with Heather Richardson placing seventh and Brittany Bowe 14th in an event not suited to them. The pre-Games prediction of skating legend Dan Jansen that the Americans could win eight to 10 medals now looks embarrassingly over-optimistic. They might easily end up with none.
Maybe they shouldn't feel too bad. Not after losing to a sporting superwoman.
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