Sochi 2014: Dominant Dutch Speedskating Makes More History with Another Sweep

Tom Weir@@tomweirsportsFeatured ColumnistFebruary 16, 2014

Athletes from the Netherlands, from left to right, silver medallist Ireen Wust, Gold medallist Jorien ter Mors and bronze medallist Lotte van Beek celebrate during the flower ceremony for the women's 1,500-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Associated Press

From the start of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Dutch speedskaters have been amazing, getting a pair of medal sweeps early on at the long-track oval. Then, they moved on to staggering, as golds, silvers and bronzes piled up like the chips of a poker player on a hot streak.

But now, their performance in Sochi is downright preposterous.

After Sunday's sweep in the women's 1,500 meters, the speedskating score is Holland 16, Rest of the World 8. And with an additional medal won in short-track speedskating, the Dutch's total haul of 17 is the most by any nation at Sochi, one more than the U.S. or host Russia.

The latest Dutch speedskater to leave the rest of the world gaping in disbelief is 24-year-old Jorien ter Mors, who arrived in Sochi as a little-known skater who most often put her blades to work in short-track events.

But on Sunday, Ter Mors led the Dutch, clad as always in a neon shade of orange, to their third medals sweep in eight events. She blew away the competition with an Olympic-record time of one minute, 53.51 seconds, which was particularly startling given that Sochi's ice is considered slow.

When Mors crossed the finish line and saw her time, she stared at it open-mouthed, every bit as stunned as her audience. She skated in the ninth of 20 pairs, meaning all of the world's highest-ranked competitors had yet to take aim at her mark, but there was an immediate sense they would strictly be chasing the silver and gold.

That proved to be true, even for Holland's Ireen Wust, the defending gold medalist who already had won the 3,000 in Sochi while also claiming silver in the 1,000.

Wust is so renowned in Holland that there's already a speedskating oval named for her there. But she had to settle for silver in her signature event, finishing in 1:54.09. 

Bronze medalist Charlotte van Beek (1:54.54) completed the sweep, but the Dutch added an exclamation point, with Marrit Leenstra (1:56.40) also out-skating the rest of the world and finishing fourth.

No nation had ever before finished 1-2-3-4 in an Olympic speedskating event. 

"Unfortunately, there are only three spots on the podium," Leenstra said. "But still I would rather have Dutch girls in front of me than others."

Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

Ter Mors received a warm hug from Wust and then set off jogging a victory lap that was interrupted several times as she stopped to wipe away tears of joy and astonishment.

She nearly won an additional medal on Saturday, finishing fourth in the short-track 1,500 at the Iceberg Skating Palace that's right next door to the Adler Arena that houses Sochi's long-track oval.

That turned out to be an excellent warmup for Sunday's race, where Ter Mors' time was the second-fastest ever at sea level. She could have two more chances to medal in Sochi. She's in short-track's 1,000, where qualifying starts Tuesday, and she could be in the final long-track event, Saturday's women's team pursuit. 

Ter Mors is the first woman to double up and skate both long track and short track at the same Olympics. She didn't take up long track until 2012 and started to dabble in workouts on the 400-meter oval mainly as a training tool.

But after a World Cup victory in the 1,500 at Berlin in 2013, she realized she had Olympic medal prospects in both disciplines.

"It is bizarre that I can do this," said Ter Mors (via The Associated Press).

Ter Mors said the last year has been a rough one for her after the death of her father last May.

Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

"I'm just speechless," she said. "To become Olympic champion here, after everything I went through in the past year, this is absolutely fantastic"

The Dutch long-track speedskaters now totally merit consideration as the greatest team in Winter Olympics history. Holland's population is only about 16.8 million, which is less than Florida's.

The 1,500 sweep broke East Germany's previous record of 13 speedskating medals at a single Games, set at Calgary in 1988.

Until Sochi, Holland's highest medal total at a Winter Olympics was 11 at Nagano in 1998, where they all came in long-track speedskating.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

In the meantime, the U.S. is still trying to scrounge up its first speedskating medal in Sochi. Heather Richardson was considered a contender, but she placed seventh in the 1,500, in 1:57.6, more than three seconds out of the medal podium.

The other Americans were far back, as Brittany Bowe placed 14th (1:58.31) and Jilleanne Rookard 18th (1:59.15).

With four long-track events left, the biggest upset would be if the Dutch didn't continue their march to the podium.

They'll be favored for gold in both the men's and women's team pursuit events, and a sweep in the men's 10,000 is eagerly anticipated in a nation that has always loved speedskating's distance events. They're also counting on a medal in the women's 5,000 from Wust.

It goes without saying the rest of the world's speedskaters should be expecting a few more servings of Orange Crush.

Tom Weir has covered eight Winter Olympics as a columnist and reporter for USA Today. You can follow him on Twitter at @TomWeirSports.