Nuis gets 2nd skating gold with Olympic assist from Poutala
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Kjeld Nuis won his second gold medal in speedskating, and he had Mika Poutala’s Olympic spirit to thank for it.
The Dutchman became the first speedskater to win two golds at the Gangneung Oval, but it is Poutala who deserves a special medal.
With Nuis going full out on the final straightaway in the men’s 1,000 meters on Friday, Poutala could easily have held him up on the crossover and denied him the title. But the Finn realized his chances for a medal were waning and instead of aggressively seeking the middle of the lane he stayed left, keeping the Dutchman’s path clear.
“Mika Poutala just saved my life,” Nuis said after adding the 1,000 title to his 1,500 gold. “If he would have thrown himself in front of me, I would have been the fool. He didn’t. That is so beautiful.”
As a result, Nuis kept his pace and finished 0.04 seconds faster than Havard Lorentzen, who was anxiously watching from the infield. The Norwegian, himself the 500 champion, was also chasing a second gold.
Nuis ended up winning in 1 minute, 07.91 seconds. Kim Tae-yun of South Korea took bronze.
“I have two of these things around my neck, and that is why I came here,” said Nuis, who failed to make his country’s national team for the last two Olympics.
In comparison, Poutala only had a 16th-place finish to show for his efforts, having been slowed by the crossover. At least he will be holding his head high.
“I didn’t want to take any chances and ruin his race,” Poutala said. “I was afraid that I would mess his race and I knew he was battling for the win.”
Nuis said Poutala came up to him after the race and said: “I just did what I hope someone else would do for me.”
The gold also meant a lot for the Netherlands. After a week without an Olympic title in long-track speedskating, the Dutch had to do something to change things.
Nuis delivered, reinforcing the Dutch dominance at the top of the speedskating medal standings. They orange-clad skaters now have seven gold medals and 14 overall in 12 events, with two mass starts to come on Saturday.
The country’s latest champion held his new medal tight after receiving it on the stand — the first time medals were handed over in the Gangneung Oval — and sang the Wilhelmus anthem with a heaving chest.
Nuis was also the first man to win gold after racing in the final pairing at the Pyeongchang Games. And beyond the sheer power in his legs, he also had to hold his nerve while watching all his rivals go first.
When Lorentzen became the first man to break the 1:08 mark, the pressure intensified and it became clear that Nuis would need to have the race of his life. He false-started once, and knew a second one would lead to disqualification. But because the 1,000 is a sprint race, he could not hold back.
And he didn’t.
“Mentally, he was very tough,” Dutch coach Jac Orie said. “That’s why he won.”
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org