Tuesday, February 17, 1998
Gianni's gold: another world record
NAGANO, Japan (AP) -- There wasn't a smidgen of doubt that another world speedskating record would fall today at M-Wave. That issue was conceded before Gianne Romme glided onto the ice.
Even Johann Olav Koss, whose 4-year-old mark in the 10,000-meter race was one of the last holdouts from the traditional skate era, knew that his name was about to be expunged from the record book.
"Yeah, smashed," Koss said. "I think you can put me ... in a museum or something."
The only reason anyone bothered to show up was to see how much time Romme, aided by the new clap skates, would shave off the record. The strapping 25-year-old from the Netherlands didn't disappoint, leading a 1-2-3 Dutch sweep as he obliterated Koss' mark by more than 15 seconds for his second world-record triumph of the Nagano Games.
"I knew it would be a new world record, but the time I did not know," he said, pausing to ponder his time of 13 minutes, 15.33 seconds. "That's pretty fast, I think."
Step aside "Koss the Boss" -- men's speedskating has a new king.
When Romme crossed the line, he threw up his arms in triumph and smiled broadly without even looking at the scoreboard. He had been on a record-smashing pace from the first lap, turning four of the first six in less than 31 seconds, then posting 11 straight laps under 32 seconds. His legs weakened at the end, but his margin was so large it didn't matter.
"Halfway through the race I started to get into some difficulty, and the last few laps turned into one big fight," Romme said.
The moment didn't have the same emotion as Koss' gold medal performance of 13:30.55 at the 1994 Winter Games. Romme already had sucked all the drama out of M-Wave more than a week ago, when he smashed the 5,000 record by more than six seconds and relegated countryman Rintje Ritsma and Bart Veldkamp of Belgium to silver and bronze even though they also broke the old world mark.
The 5,000 was the first time that all three medalists eclipsed the world record. In the 10,000, breaking Koss' mark didn't even guarantee a medal, as Veldkamp painfully discovered.
Romme skated in the next-to-last pair with another Dutch skater, Bob de Jong, who was blown off the track by his teammate but still managed a brilliant time, 13:25.76.
"I knew I was going for silver," de Jong said. "I got into the rhythm and just looked down. When I looked up, Gianni was already 100 meters away."
Ritsma and Veldkamp took the ice last, knowing they couldn't catch Romme, either, but a spot on the podium was available. Veldkamp led with two laps to go in the 25-lap race, but Ritsma passed him going into the final turn to claim the bronze in 13:28.19, giving the Dutch the firstsweep of a men's race since 1964.
Ritsma collapsed in exhaustion on a bench near the finish line, sweat pouring off his face in the frosty arena. When he recovered, he was fully content with his third medal of these games and the fifth of his career.
"Gianni is just in a class all of his own," Ritsma said.
Veldkamp, the 1992 gold medalist in the 10,000, cruised aross the line with his head bowed, his hands resting on his knees. He had gone faster than anyone in the world before today, 13:29.69, but he didn't even get a medal for his trouble.
The 1-2-3 Dutch finish was their fourth speedskating victory in eight races, full atonement for the gold medal shutout of four years ago. Also, the 10 medals overall surpasses the country's previous best performance, nine medals at Sapporo in 1972, with two women's races still to go.
KC Boutiette of Tacoma, Wash., set an American record with a time of 13.44.03, more than 24 seconds better than his previous personal best. Though he was only eighth overall, the 27-year-old was nevertheless elated by his effort.
In four Olympic races, Boutiette broke four personal bests and set three Americans records, not bad for a former in-line skater who took up speedskating just three months before the 1994 Lillehammer Games.
"I can't complain," said Boutiette, whose best placing was fifth. "I may not be at the very top of my game, but things are going well for me right now."
The other American, Dave Tamburrino of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., finished last in the 16-man field at 14:12.00.