Ice Network

Surprise! Netherlands wins both team pursuits

Team USA finishes seventh in men's team pursuit, sixth in ladies
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The Dutch men leap in celebration of their gold medal in the team pursuit. -Getty Images

Men's team pursuit

For the first time in history, the Dutch men won the gold medal in the team pursuit, and it was also the first men's team pursuit gold medal on foreign soil (Italy won in 2006 and Canada won in 2010). In the final, they set an Olympic record time of 3:37.71 and were more than three seconds faster than the strong Korean team, which kept up with the Dutch in the first three laps but then started to falter, taking silver in 3:40.85.

Poland took the bronze in the B Final over Canada, spearheaded by Zbigniew Bródka, Konrad Niedwiedzki and Jan Szymanski. The Canadians started strong, but Poland was not taken out of its game, skating a very even race from lap to lap to finish in 3:41.94.

For the Dutch, it was their seventh gold medal in one sport at one Olympic Winter Games. That was a record, the former being six medals in speed skating by the Soviet Union in 1960 (before the team pursuit was introduced) in and equaled by Korea in short track in 2006. Sven Kramer joined Norwegian Ivar Ballangrud and Finland's Clas Thunberg as the men with most medals in speed skating, seven.

"It took us three Olympic Games to get the gold medal," Kramer said. "In Torino, it was a young event -- it existed just a year and a half -- so nobody trained, and then I stepped on a block and fell. In Vancouver, there were so many good skaters, but the team we raced with was a whole different team than the one I had trained with."

"I don't think this medal was easy," Koen Verweij, Kramer's teammate, said. We worked hard, adjusted our own programs and individual schedules. We made the dedication to two years of hard work with the team, which resulted in, finally, a gold medal."

Korea's Seung-Hoon Lee won his third Olympic medal, a record for Korean speed skaters.

"I think that we perform better in team pursuit than in individual races," Lee said. "Of course we knew the Dutch would be champions. They had to work hard at winning gold."

Norway finished fifth and Russia sixth.

Team USA defeated France in the D Final to finish seventh. The U.S. team had Joey Mantia skating in place of Shani Davis.

"I was happy to skate and to try and end the Games on a good note," Mantia said.

"The team element was good, but physically we were not there, and that was the problem," American Brian Hansen said. "I can walk away from the Olympics with my own self-satisfaction. I have sacrificed everything for the Olympics. It's hard to justify in terms of money, school, friends, but I'm happy that I competed at an Olympics."

Ladies team pursuit

In the ladies races, the day started with the semifinals. The Polish ladies, who snagged bronze in the 2010 Olympics and, hence, "started believing they could really achieve something" as one of the Polish skaters stated, put together a strong race, gaining more and more ground on their Russian opponents. The Polish ladies skated in 3:00.60 and Russia crossed the line in 3:02.08. This put the Polish team in the A Final, with Russia sent to the C Final for bronze.

Meeting Russia in the C Final was Japan, who lost to the Netherlands. The Dutch, this time with Marrit Leenstra instead of Lotte van Beek together with Jorien ter Mors and Ireen Wüst, bettered their Oympic record they set Friday, now to 2:58.43. The Japanese were simply not strong nor synchronized enough, finishing in 3:10.19.

The Dutch ladies, as expected, took the gold over Poland. Yet again, the Dutch set a new Olympic record, finishing in 2:58.05. The Polish team crossed the line in 3:05.55.

With gold in the ladies team pursuit, the Netherlands reached eight golds in 12 events for one country, extending the record of seven set by the men.

"We are a real team now," Wüst said. "Especially in Vancouver, we disappointed. But after eight years, we finally did it.

It's an incredible feeling, and I can't really believe it yet. In these Olympics alone, I have five medals. It's a little bit crazy."

"It was not necessary to skate that fast," Ter Mors said, "But we probably could have gone faster if necessary."

"It is great to be part of the team with a gold medal," Leenstra added.

The Polish team was pleased with the silver.

"In Vancouver, we had our start at international level," Polish skater Luiza Zlotkowska said. "That opened doors for us."

The B Final between home favorite Russia and the silver medalists from 2010, Japan, started out close, but the Russian team managed to keep its lap times pretty even and took the lead in the last three laps. Russia, with the home crowd behind them, finished in 2:59.73, a superb time, while Japan, finishing in 3:02.56, was left empty-handed.

Russia's Olga Graf got philosophical about capturing the bronze.

"There is a proverb," Graf said. "Russian ladies can stop the fire and stop a running horse. I like that proverb."

In the C final, Canada overcame Team USA, finishing in a good 3:02.03. The U.S. ladies led in the first half of the race but lost their advantage in the last three laps and finished in 3:03.76. As a result, the Americans finished sixth.

"I was a little bit disappointed with my individual events," USA's Heather Richardson said. "I'm excited to get home and look back to see what we could have done differently. Then, it will be back to work for four more years."

"I don't care what we place," American Jilleanne Rookard said. "I mean, I do, but just the experience alone is enough.

"With the whole added hype of USA, 'If you don't come back with a gold, it's a fail,' I think our society really puts a huge pressure over our heads," she continued. "When you come home without a medal, it's a big disappointment to a lot of people."

Norway edged Korea for seventh place in the D Final.