Sunday, February 15, 1998
Dutch starting to dominate sprints, tooNAGANO, Japan (AP) -- First the clap skates, then the foam strips on skin suits designed to improve aerodynamics -- and now the Dutch.
The latest revolution in speedskating took place Sunday when the Dutch dominated a sprint. Ids Postma brought the Netherlands its first gold medal in a sprint race, setting an Olympic record in the 1,000 meters.
Right behind him for the silver was Jan Bos, who only three weeks ago became the first Dutchman to win a world sprint title. Hiroyasu Shimizu, who previously won the 500 for Japan's first gold medal of the Nagano Games, took the bronze in the 1,000.
Postma finished the 2 1/2-lap race in 1 minute, 16.64 seconds, becoming the third skater to set the Olympic record Sunday. In all, 18 skaters were faster than Dan Jansen's 1:12.43 when he won four years ago in Lillehammer.
"The time didn't surprise me," Postma said. "But I was surprised I won the gold."
The defending world all-around champion, Postma's best event is the 1,500 meters. He lost that race last week when he came out of his stride on the last turn and was edged out by Norway Adne Sondral. He also fell in the first 500 race, dropping him to last.
"The 1,500 was the distance I really thought I could win," he said. "I didn't expect it for the 1,000."
Neither did anyone else.
The Canadian men were supposed to rule the way their teammates had the day before in the women's 500 with a gold-silver finish. Instead, world-record holder Jeremy Wotherspoon ran out of gas over the final 400 meters, and Sylvain Bouchard's fifth-place finish was their best showing.
The Dutch, if not for Shimizu, would have finished 1-2-3 as Jakko Jan Leeuwangh came in fourth.
Not bad for a country that, coming into the games, had won 30 of its 32 men's speedskating medals in distances of 1,500 meters or longer.
"In the past, the Dutch were all-around skaters," said Bos, the 22-year-old anchor of the sprint team. "I think that's changing. I became the first Dutch to be a world champion sprinter, and that was a good start. I think there will be a lot more in the years to come."
The Netherlands has placed so much more emphasis on shorter races that they even hired an American to run their sprint program -- Peter Mueller, who won the Olympic gold medal in the 1,000 meters in 1976.
It used to be that those not good enough to make the all-around team were relegated to the sprints, which helps explain their Olympic drought in the 500 and 1,000.
Jan Ykema won the 500 silver in 1988, Lieuwe De Boer the 500 bronze in 1980, but nothing even close to gold.
All that changed Sunday when Postma turned in a phenomenal final lap -- no one was faster than his 27.32 -- and crossed the line in record time.
When Wotherspoon sputtered, Bos seemed to be the only one left with a chance. And he was on pace to win the gold until he, too, faltered in the final 200 meters.
"I still believed I could win the gold, but after 800 meters my legs were empty," Bos said. "I couldn't skate like I used to skate any more."
Postma didn't even bother to compete in the 1,000 at a World Cup event in Berlin last month because he figured he couldn't win.
Now, he has a gold to go along with his silver in the 1,500. And with one men's event left -- the 10,000, a traditional Dutch strength -- the Netherlands' six medals are two more than they had at Lillehammer.