SOCHI, Russia — For a century, in every speedskating oval from Canada to Kazakhstan, the joke has been that Dutchmen can’t dash. Their idea of a sprint is 1,500 meters, and if there were a 20,000, they’d own it until the end of time.
The Netherlands never had won the 500 at Olympus until Monday evening, so to make up for lost time, they swept the podium with Michel Mulder, Jan Smeekens, and Mulder’s brother Ronald — the first time that twins have won medals in the same individual event at the Games since Phil and Steve Mahre went 1-2 in the slalom in 1984.
“Silver and bronze would have been good enough,” said coach Gerard van Velde, whose countrymen hadn’t made the medal stand in the event since Jan Ykema took silver on Calgary’s speedway in 1988.
It was a devastating outcome for the Asians, who grabbed everything in 2010 and thought that they had a strong chance to do it again.
“The gap between us and the Netherlands just widened,” said Japan’s Keiichiro Nagashima, the Vancouver runner-up who had the season’s best time coming in but placed sixth. “Right now they are a step ahead of everyone.”
The Dutch, who swept the 5,000 last Saturday and are favored to do the same in next Tuesday’s 10,000, never dreamed that they’d do it here. Neither did South Korea’s Mo Tae Bum, who was looking to become the first 500 champion to repeat since Germany’s Uwe-Jens Mey in 1992 but who ended up fourth, as the jinx on the reigning global titlist in the event continued at the Games.
While the Americans, who were shut out in 2010 after Casey FitzRandolph and Joey Cheek went back-to-back gold at Salt Lake City and Turin, weren’t expecting a medal here, neither were they expecting to post by far their worst showing in history: 24th (Shani Davis), 26th (Tucker Fredricks), 27th (Mitchell Whitmore), and a DNF (Brian Hansen).
Davis was just working on technique to prepare for Wednesday’s 1,000, in which he’s favored to become the first man to win the same event in three straight Games. But Fredricks is a two-time World Cup champion in the event and was ranked seventh this season.
“It was worse than I thought,” he said. “I don’t know what to say.”
It may have been that the Yanks, who train at altitude in Utah, couldn’t deal with the slow ice that’s a byproduct of building an oval in a subtropical climate a few laps from the Black Sea. The Dutch, who live below sea level, felt right at home. Still, they never figured that they’d go 1-2-3 in an event they’ve always conceded to others.
For a moment, they thought Smeekens had won, but a time correction quickly listed Michel Mulder as the victor by a hundredth of a second in a combined 69.312 seconds for the two heats.
“It felt like a kick in the gut,” Smeekens said.
Mulder, who’d lost a couple of global championships by two-hundredths or less, could empathize. But a Dutchman disappointed with silver in the dash? It’s a new millennium indeed.John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.