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Lorentzen puts Norway back on Olympic speedskating map

February 19, 2018

Gold medalist Havard Lorentzen of Norway celebrates setting a new Olympic record during the men's 500 meters speedskating race at the Gangneung Oval at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — At an Olympics where almost everything is going Norway’s way, even its speedskaters are back on top.

Havard Lorentzen proved that a program which has been in disarray for two decades is on the up by winning the 500-meter gold Monday in an Olympic record time.

To make it even better, the Dutch were nowhere in sight, totally shut out in an event which they swept only four years ago.

“We don’t like it when the Dutch win that much,” Lorentzen said of their century-old rivalry for skating supremacy. “It is good to beat them. This is as a good as it gets.”

The 25-year-old Norwegian speedskater gave his country, a powerhouse best known for its Alpine and cross-country skiers, its 10th gold medal and 27th overall. Germany later added a 10th gold in the two-man bobsled, but Norway moved back in front with an 11th in ski jumping’s team event.

Lorentzen won in 34.41 seconds at the Gangneung Oval. He beat Cha Min-Kyu of South Korea, who had equaled the Olympic record earlier, by 0.01 seconds. Twenty-year-old Gao Tingyu of China took bronze.

Ronald Mulder, the twin brother of 2014 Olympic champion Michel Mulder, was the best Dutch skater, finishing in seventh place.

The Norwegian frustration at being unable to compete with the best sat so deep that Lorentzen had barely left the ice when he started to spout the damning statistics.

“It’s been 20 years since the last Olympic gold medal,” he said, referring to the 1998 win over 1,500 by Adne Sondral.

And there was more.

“It is 70 years since the 500 meters,” he said, remembering Finn Helgesen, who won at the 1948 St. Moritz Games. “Long enough.”

The last great Norwegian speedskater was Johann Olav Koss, who won three gold medals at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Speedskating in Norway then went into a steady decline, without a single medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games or in Sochi four years ago.

Koss was among the first the laud the comeback.

“Fantastic Gold by @hoawi,” Koss wrote on Twitter. “Congratulations to an amazing athlete and race. Have never seen a better last 300m before!! #norwegianskatersareback.”

And it didn’t come easy.

Cha first set the 8,000-capacity oval alight when he equaled the Olympic record that Casey FitzRandolph had set at altitude during the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

It was a huge surprise, which set the other favorites with a massive challenge to match it. With ice conditions worsening, Lorentzen had his work cut out for him.

“I was putting on my skates when Cha did his race and the atmosphere was amazing. Then he sets an Olympic record,” Lorentzen said. “I wasn’t sure I could beat that.”

Lorentzen was slower over the opening straightaway but once he got his stride going, he got closer and closer. With a final lunge at the line, he finished one-hundredth of a second inside the South Korean’s time.

The crowd, unsurprisingly, was rooting for its skater.

“To cross the finish line and the entire stadium just goes to silence,” said Lorentzen, who will go for a second gold medal in Friday’s 1,000-meter race. “It was quite cool.”

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