Mulder twins lead another Netherlands sweep of Olympic speedskating event
By Paul Newberry ,AP
February 12, 2014, 12:04 am TWN
SOCHI, Russia -- Michel Mulder led another Dutch sweep at the Olympic speedskating oval Monday, edging teammate Jan Smeekens by 12-thousandths of a second, while Mulder's identical twin brother Ronald got the bronze.
It was the first gold medal ever in the men's 500 for the Netherlands, which became the first country to take the top three spots in the sport's most furious race.
Smeekens led after the first of two heats and initially thought he had earned a tie for the gold after he crossed the line. But the clock adjusted the official times, giving Michel Mulder the gold with a total of 1 minute, 9.312 seconds — carried out to the thousandths of a second in the official results to show just how close it was.
The silver went to Smeekens in 1:09.324, while Ronald Mulder grabbed the bronze with the fastest run of the day, 34.49 in the second round to finish at 1:09.46.
“I didn't really realize what time I needed,” Michel Mulder said. “In the past, I have lost races by one-hundredths a few times. It was so unbelievable.”
Indeed, he lost to Mo Tae-bum by that margin at the 2012 world single-distance championships in Heerenveen.
“Now, Olympic champion,” Mulder said.
Mo, the defending Olympic champion from South Korea, was fourth this time. The other medalists from the 2010 Winter Games took the next two spots: 2010 bronze winner Joji Kato of Japan was fifth, with countryman and reigning silver medalist Keiichiro Nagashima sixth.
Smeekens led after the opening heat, posting a time of 34.59 seconds to claim the coveted final race of the second round, which meant he would know the time to beat.
Turns out, he just missed.
Smeekens thought he had tied it when the scoreboard flashed the unofficial time, slapping his coach's hand and rocking his head back in delight. But the slight adjustment to the actual times — common in speedskating — forced him to settle for silver.
Mulder, watching the scoreboard intently from the infield, began jumping around in delight when he realized the gold was his. And having his twin brother on the medal stand with him only made it sweeter.
Smeekens looked heartbroken in the moment, and still seemed a little dazed when he came to the podium for the flower ceremony, flanked by the beaming brothers.
“I felt pure euphoria,” Smeekens said. “This is such a downer.”
The Dutch are blowing away the competition at Adler Arena, also going 1-2-3 in the men's 5,000, with Sven Kramer taking gold, and taking the top spot in the women's 3,000 with Ireen Wust.
Yes, orange is the dominant color in this Sochi Olympic stadium.
“This hasn't quite registered yet,” Michel Mulder said. “This is so fantastic to see the three of us on the podium. We have become the top 500-meter nation. We worked very hard for this. It all went so fast.”
The Americans aren't going nearly fast enough, and just like that they've seen their lead in the overall speedskating gold medal standings snatched away. The U.S. came into Sochi with 29 Olympic golds at the Winter Games, two ahead of the Dutch.
Now, it's the Netherlands out front with 30 golds.
The best American hope, three-time Olympian Tucker Fredricks of Janesville, Wis., struggled through two sluggish races and finished 26th out of 40 skaters, a staggering 1.68 off the combined pace of the gold medalist.
Shani Davis of Chicago, who uses the 500 merely as a tuneup for his better events, was the top U.S. finisher in 24th. Mitch Whitmore of Waukesha, Wisconsin, was 27th and Brian Hansen of Glenview, Illinois, dropped out after finishing 33rd in the first heat. Like Davis, Hansen treats the 500 merely as a training tool for his longer races.
“I think we're a bit down,” Davis said, “but we're always optimistic.”