Jorien Ter Mors
For the third time in the 2014 Winter Games, the Dutch completely swept a podium in a speedskating event, fueled by Jorien ter Mors' record-breaking performance.
Ter Mors posted a final time of 1:53.51, which broke Germany's Anni Friesinger's 1:54.02 record-setting time posted at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Olympic legend Ireen Wust scored a silver medal and her third medal of the Games overall thanks to a 1:54.09 mark, while fellow countrywoman Lotte van Beek won bronze to round out the podium courtesy of a 1:54.54 time—a full 1.03 seconds behind ter Mors.
As Michael C. Lewis of The Salt Lake Tribune illustrated before the event's conclusion—it was painfully obvious no competitor was sniffing the all-Dutch podium—the Dutch hold a stranglehold on the sport thus far in Sochi:
Dutch poised now for another speedskating sweep, in women’s 1500. If it holds, that’ll be 16 of 24 medals, avg of two in every race so far.— Michael C. Lewis (@MCLTribune) February 16, 2014
As if to add insult to the rest of the field, Marrit Leenstra of the Netherlands took fourth place with a time of 1:56.40, although her mark was 2.89 seconds off the lead, perfectly illustrating just how dominant the top three truly were:
|1||NED||Jorien ter Mors||9||I||1:53.51 OR||0.00|
|3||NED||Lotte van Beek||18||O||1:54.54||+1.03|
|21||KOR||Bo Reum Kim||2||O||1:59.78||+6.27|
|29||KOR||Seon Yeong Noh||3||I||2:01.07||+7.56|
|36||KOR||Shin Young Yang||4||I||2:04.13||+10.62|
For ter Mors, the Olympic record is a nice feather in the cap, but fans in no way should have been surprised to see her near the top. Alex Goldberger of NBC has the scoop on her recent strong form:
Jorien ter Mors, the Dutch speed skater who just set an Olympic record in the 1500 has already had two top-6 results in SHORT TRACK here— Alex Goldberger (@alexgoldberger) February 16, 2014
To add to that point, ter Mors broke a course record back in December of 2013 at a World Cup event in Berlin, Germany—one year from taking up long track. She told reporters, via Olympic.org, that she had focused on her technique, which clearly played a part in her record-breaking performance in Sochi:
I know that I skated fast while trying to maintain a regular rhythm, and that enabled me to produce a great time. I’m focusing on my technique and I can see that I still have room for improvement. I love what I do, whether it is on the long or short track.
The host country's Olga Fatkulina provided some early fireworks thanks to a jaw-dropping pace and looked to be a contender for the top of the podium.
For a major trial of endurance, Fatkulina got off to an extremely ambitious start in front of her home crowd and was well in the lead, but she trailed off near the end and nearly fell on the final turn as her legs gave way. Willie Cornblatt of NBC put it best:
Fatkulina with a nice skate but really pulled up at the end, looked exhausted #speedskating— Willie Cornblatt (@WillieCornblatt) February 16, 2014
Yuliya Skokova ended up being Russia's best hope in a lopsided affair, as she came in right behind Leenstra with a time of 1:56.45.
Perhaps the biggest storyline was the struggles to date for America, with Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe the only two who entered Sunday's race with a legitimate chance to medal. As Cornblatt reported before the race, the duo reverted to old suits in an effort to help turn things around:
The problem did not turn out to be the suits, although Richardson turned in a nice performance. She actually sat in position to snag a bronze thanks to her 1:57.60 time, but Wust and van Beek proceeded to knock her off the podium and into a free fall to seventh place.
Bowe fared much worse as one of the race's final participants. She landed in 14th place with a time of 1:58.31—a full 4.80 out of first place.
Sunday was likely America's last chance to grab an individual medal with only the ladies' 5,000-meter event remaining, which is set for Wednesday. After that, things give way to the team-pursuit events, which the U.S. may stand a better chance in—although seeing the Dutch atop that podium seems to be cemented at this point.
Perhaps the biggest threat to a perfect podium for the Dutch in the 5,000-meter race is Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic, who holds the record in the event and specifically dropped the 1,500-meter race to better focus on her best event.
As for American star Richardson, she followed up a disappointing seventh-place finish in the 1,000-meter event—arguably her strongest event—with another seventh-place result Sunday. Though she fared better in the 1,500, it's yet another example of how some of Team USA's biggest stars haven't lived up to expectations in Sochi amidst all-world talent.
Richardson will look to rebound in the women's team pursuit finals scheduled for Saturday. A strong showing would go a long way toward healing some of the wounds caused by her early shortcomings. However, with more and more pressure mounting to turn things around, nothing is certain.