Different countries have their expertise at the Winter Olympics, but no one has been as dominant as the Netherlands in long-track speedskating.
On the men's side, the Dutch have been especially impressive with a sweep on the podium in each of the first two events. Sven Kramer set a new Olympic record with his win in the 5,000-meter race, while Michael Mulder edged out Jan Smeekens and his twin brother Ronald Mulder in the 500 meter.
Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk made an apt comparison to the most dominant group in his sport:
Netherlands sweeping the speed skating. No real surprise there. They are the SEC of speed skating on the long tracks. #Sochi14— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) February 8, 2014
However, the Netherlands is not unbeatable going forward. With most of the events still to go, these participants from around the world have a chance to knock the Dutch off the medal stand in some of the more popular races.
Shani Davis, United States
Although he has already become one of the biggest American stars in Sochi, this just puts more pressure on the two-time gold medalist to win again.
Shani Davis earned gold in the 1,000-meter event in both 2006 and 2010 while getting silver in each year in the 1,500-meter race. Though he struggled to 24th place in the 500-meter race in Sochi, he seemed to have no intention of competing for a medal in this event.
His coach, Ryan Shimabukuro, explained to Paul Myerberg of USA Today:
For the 500, for him it's all about using it as a prep for the 1,000 and 1,500, a snap-up. He knows the 500 is a stretch for him. He just uses it for training and to prepare for his other races. I don't think he had any delusions of grandeur about going into this race with any medal expectations.
Knowing that, that's why it's important for him to race today, to get that sharpness back. If he went into the 1,000 kind of like race-rusty, then I don't know what he would do. But at least I know now that he's snappy, he's ready to go.
Few athletes get a chance at a "warm-up race" like Davis, but this could work to his advantage heading into his better events. He now knows what it takes to win, and he should be rid of any nervousness going forward.
With his talent and experience, he should challenge for a gold in both the 1,000- and 1,500-meter races.
Mo Tae-bum, South Korea
Unlike Davis, Mo Tae-bum should be extremely disappointed by not medaling in the 500-meter race. The South Korean star won gold in this event in Vancouver and then again at both the 2012 and 2013 World Championships.
The good news is that he will have a chance at redemption in the 1,000-meter race and will certainly be hungry for a victory. He also has the confidence in his coach that he can win gold, via NBC's Amanda Doyle:
S. Korea's coach Kevin Crockett (1998 Oly bronze medalist from CAN) says Mo Tae-Bum can beat Shani Davis in the 1000m http://t.co/yJZOsh2pyz— Amanda Doyle (@AmandaDoyleNBC) January 16, 2014
Mo took silver in this longer distance at the World Championships, so it is clear that he can compete at a high level, even if it is not his best event. The speed is there, but the question is whether he has the endurance to keep his pace in the final laps.
He will likely need to post a personal best in order to take home gold, but he should at the very least be in contention for a medal.
Denis Yuskov, Russia
Although he was unable to medal at the 5,000-meter event earlier in the week, Denis Yuskov certainly put up a good fight with his sixth-place finish.
Former Norwegian speedskater Johann Koss gave his assessment of the run:
Denis Yuskov with an amazing race 6.19.51 tiered in the end but first 3000m was great.— Johann Koss (@JohannKoss) February 8, 2014
This is perfect for Yuskov because he is better at the mid-range events, specifically the 1,500. He won the gold medal at this distance in the 2013 World Championships and has the speed to do it again at his first Olympics.
He will also be competing in the 1,000- and 5,000-meter races and the team pursuit in Sochi. While this gives him multiple opportunities to medal, it also could cause some fatigue by the end of the week, so he must be careful.
Still, the 24-year-old Russian will have a lot of momentum from the home crowd, and Yuskov has a solid opportunity to win a gold medal for the hosts.
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