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From Shani Davis to a Belgian, 1,500 wide open

February 15, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The 1,500 meters has always been considered the King of Races in speedskating. At the Sochi Games, Saturday’s event throws up plenty of pretenders to the throne, from the United States to Belgium and, of course, the dominant Dutch.

Here are five things to watch for in the men’s 1,500 meters at the Adler Arena:

SHANI’S MOMENT?: Shani Davis has already squandered one chance at glory in the 1,000 when he failed to become the first male speedskater to win the same Olympic event three straight times. He finished well outside the medals in eighth position. He said that inexplicably he could not find the speed to carry him through the 1,000. The 1,500 is the race where the speed of sprinting meets the endurance of long-distance, and it takes knowledge and confidence to pace yourself for nearly four laps around the oval. At 31, Davis has the years of experience, but it remains to be seen whether he has found his groove again. He already knows what losing an Olympic 1,500 feels like since he had to settle for silver at the last two games. He will be racing in an older suit after the U.S. team dumped its new high tech suits Friday following a string of sluggish performances by racers.

DUTCH AGAIN?: So far, the Dutch have been overpowering in speedskating at Sochi, with 12 out of 18 meals and four out of six gold. They are shooting for 20 medals, and are counting on some from the 1,500. Mark Tuitert won the title in 2010 for a surprising gold but has done little since. This season, he upset the odds again and qualified at the nationals to defend his title. The Dutch also have Koen Verweij, who only raced three of the four World Cup events this season but is almost level with leader Davis and a sixth-place finish in the 1,000 bodes well. And after winning the 1,000, Stefan Groothuis now is full of confidence heading into the final race of his Olympics.

SWINGING BELGIAN: Belgium has won a bronze medal in speedskating before, but that was with naturalized Dutchman Bart Veldkamp in the 5,000 at the 1998 Nagano Games. Now Veldkamp is back, as a coach for Bart Swings. The Belgian got close to the medal table when he finished fourth in the 5,000 but the former inline skater fancies his chances in the 1,500.

RUSSIAN HOPES: Denis Yuskov is the man the home crowd will be backing. He won the world title on the same ice last year to underscore his credentials but doused the enthusiasm early this week by finishing only 17th in the 1,000.

EVERYONE’S A FAVORITE: “I could easily name 12, even 16 names,” said Russian coach Konstantin Poltavets. It holds one warning for the fans at the Adler Arena: show up early. Dutchman Jan Blokhuijsen goes in the second pair and 1,000 champion Stefan Groothuis in the seventh, well before the ice resurfacing. On Thursday, winner Zhang Hong also skated before the intermission in the women’s 1,000.


Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert

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