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Monday, Feb. 10, 2014

Michel Mulder leads another sweep by the Dutch at Olympic oval

Associated Press
PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Michel Mulder, of the Netherlands, skates his way to a gold medal Monday during the men's 500-meter race at the Olympics. His twin brother, Ronald, got the bronze.

SOCHI, Russia — The Dutch have taken their domination at the Olympic speedskating oval to a new level.

They aren’t just hoarding most of the medals.

Now, they’re keeping it in the family.

Michel Mulder led another sweep by the Netherlands at Adler Arena on Monday, edging teammate Jan Smeekens by 12-thousanths of a second. Mulder’s identical twin brother, Ronald, got the bronze.

“It is a dream, of course, to come here, me and my twin brother,” Michel Mulder said. “It would be the perfect scenario to be 1-2, but together on the podium is amazing.”

It was the first gold medal ever in the men’s 500 for the Netherlands, which also became the first country to take the top three Olympic spots in the sport’s most furious race.
Smeekens led after the first of two heats and the scoreboard initially showed a tie after he crossed the line in the second leg, based on hundredths of a second. After a bit more tabulating, Mulder had the gold with a total of 1 minute, 9.312 seconds – carried out to the thousandths of a second in the official results to show just how close it was.

The silver went to Smeekens in 1:09.324, while Ronald Mulder grabbed the bronze with the fastest run of the day, 34.49 in the second round to finish at 1:09.46.

“I didn’t really realize what time I needed,” Michel Mulder said. “In the past, I have lost races by one-hundredths a few times. It was so unbelievable.”

Indeed, he lost to Mo Tae-bum by that margin at the 2012 world single-distance championships in Heerenveen. Tae-Bum, the defending Olympic champion from South Korea, was fourth this time.

Smeekens led after the opening heat, putting up a time of 34.59 seconds to claim the coveted final race of the second round, which meant he would know the time to beat.

Turns out, he just missed.

When the scoreboard flashed the unofficial time, Smeekens slapped his coach’s hand and rocked his head back in delight. But it’s common in speedskating for the timing system to make slight adjustments, and the celebration was premature. Smeekens time was adjusted upward just enough to turn gold into silver.

“It was a kick in the gut,” he said. “I was really happy – and then really disappointed.”

Mulder, watching the scoreboard intently from a bench on the infield, began jumping around in delight when he realized the gold was his. And having his twin on the medal stand with him only made it sweeter.

Smeekens buried his head in his hands as he glided around the track. He still seemed a little dazed when he came to the podium for the flower ceremony, flanked by the beaming brothers.

It certainly wasn’t a downer for the Dutch team, which is blowing away the competition at the big oval. The Orange Crush also went 1-2-3 in the men’s 5,000, with Sven Kramer taking gold, and Ireen Wust grabbed the top spot in the women’s 3,000. In all, the Netherlands has taken seven of nine medals awarded over the first three days of speedskating.

Now, they even own a race that was long overlooked in Holland. The country’s last medal in the men’s 500 was Jan Ykema’s silver at the 1988 Calgary Games.

“This is so fantastic to see the three of us on the podium,” Michel Mulder said. “We have become the top 500-meter nation. We worked very hard for this. It all went so fast.”

The Americans aren’t going nearly fast enough, and just like that they’ve seen their lead in the overall speedskating gold medal standings snatched away. The U.S. came into Sochi with 29 Olympic golds at the Winter Games, two ahead of the Dutch.

Now, it’s the Netherlands out front with 30 golds.

The best American hope, three-time Olympian Tucker Fredricks of Janesville, Wis., struggled through two sluggish races and finished 26th out of 40 skaters. Shani Davis of Chicago, who uses the 500 merely as a tuneup for his better events, was the top U.S. finisher in 24th.

Mitch Whitmore of Waukesha, Wis., was 27th and Brian Hansen of Glenview, Ill., dropped out after finishing 33rd in the first heat. Like Davis, Hansen treats the 500 merely as a training tool for his longer races.

“I think we’re a bit down,” Davis said, “but we’re always optimistic.”

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