Sven Kramer defends gold in 5,000m
SOCHI, Russia -- Sven Kramer leaped on the top step of the medal stand, unleashed a scream for the Dutch fans and defiantly pointed both index fingers.
He'd been waiting four long years for this moment.
And, still, it's not enough.
Kramer got started on his road to Olympic redemption -- and that's all it was, a start -- by claiming his second straight speedskating gold in the men's 5,000 meters Saturday.
After the runaway victory, Kramer made it clear he won't be satisfied unless he leaves Sochi with three gold medals around his neck. He's made too many blunders on the sport's biggest stage to settle for anything less.
"For sure, there was a lot of pressure," he said. "I knew I had to skate the race of my life."
That he did. The 27-year-old broke his own Olympic record with a time of 6 minutes, 10.76 seconds -- nearly 5 seconds ahead of teammate Jan Blokhuijsen, who took the silver. Jorrit Bergsma completed a medal sweep by the powerful Dutch team by claiming the bronze.
All three were cheered on by the king of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, his wife Queen Maxima, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
"What can you say? We could never have hoped for such a great result," said the king, himself a keen speedskater. "That Sven was able to deliver despite such pressure, it leaves me speechless. What can you say, such a great Olympic record."
Kramer is determined to sweep the two longest speedskating races in Sochi and help the Dutch win the team pursuit, which he figures is the only way to make up for a series of Olympic flops that have marred his otherwise brilliant career.
His biggest blunder came four years ago at the Vancouver Games, where he made an inexplicable error in the 10,000. Directed into the wrong lane by his coach, he followed the advice for some reason and was disqualified in a race he should have won easily.
Someone asked how long it took to get over the heartache.
"It's still there, it's still there," Kramer replied. Then, he added, "In two more weeks, we'll see."
The lane fiasco wasn't his only Olympic mistake. As a teenager during the 2006 Winter Games, Kramer clipped a lane marker in team pursuit and took out his heavily favored squad. There were more problems in the pursuit four years ago, when some poor teamwork cost the Dutch another shot at gold.
No troubles this time. Kramer flew around the Adler Arena with amazingly consistent laps, all falling within a range of eight-tenths of a second. He easily beat the Olympic mark of 6:14.60 he set while winning gold at Vancouver four years ago.
"I didn't expect it to come so easily," Kramer said. "I think that was one of my best races ever."
He had some sleepless nights in the Olympic Village, going over strategy in his head. He wanted to skate at a nice, steady pace, with each lap around the 400-meter oval as close to 29.2 seconds as possible.
How'd that work out? His fastest lap was 29.04. The slowest was his last, 29.84.
Chad Hedrick, the American who won the 5,000 in Turin eight years ago, tweeted his congratulations to Kramer.
"A legend in the making!" Hedrick wrote.
Blokhuijsen earned the silver in 6:15.71. Bergsma set a quicker pace than Kramer in the early going, but he couldn't maintain the speed. He settled for bronze in 6:16.66.
Kramer now has as many golds as his longtime girlfriend, Naomi van As, who was on the Dutch team that won field hockey at the last two Summer Olympics and was cheering from the stands at these games. He also gave the Netherlands their 28th speedskating gold overall, moving within one of equaling the U.S. team that won more speedskating events than any other country.
The Americans weren't close in this one. Seventeen-year-old Emery Lehman of Oak Park, Ill., was the top American finisher, placing 16th in his Olympic debut. Jonathan Kuck of Champaign, Ill., was 19th, one spot ahead of Patrick Meek of Chicago.
The draw was a bit of a disadvantage for Kramer, who skated in the 10th of 13 pairings. His closest challengers all went after him, which meant they would know how fast they needed to go for gold.
But Kramer put up a time no one came close to touching.
Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press