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Vancouver failure piles pressure on Sven Kramer

February 5, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Eric Heiden and Sven Kramer are perhaps the two greatest speedskaters of all time. Only one of them has an Olympic medal haul to match his reputation — so far.

The American has a perfect five gold medals from one Olympics, the 1980 Lake Placid Games, while the Dutchman has just a single gold from two Olympics, and is anxiously counting on Sochi to make amends.

Blame it on “that moment,” as Kramer delicately framed his Olympic blunder for the ages four years ago at the Vancouver Games.

With the 10,000 meters as good as won four years ago, his coach inexplicably pointed him toward the wrong lane on a crossover and Kramer, just as inexplicably, followed that road to Olympic ruin.

Now, Kramer has 15 days to turn that failure into the redemption story of the games, starting with Saturday’s 5,000 meters, where he is the defending champion.

“There is a little more pressure these Olympics. That is a fact,” Kramer said Wednesday with a sense of understatement.

Kramer’s world championship record is unsurpassed, with 6 allround titles and 13 single distance titles. For speedskating though, there is only one place to transcend the sport, and that is the Olympics.

“Sven Kramer has not been able to achieve that,” said former teammate, Olympic medalist and expert commentator Erben Wennemars.

As a result, nothing less than three gold medals will satisfy Kramer in Sochi — the two long-distance titles and the team pursuit race.

And at 27, it could be Kramer’s last chance to make an indelible Olympic mark.

From the start, Kramer and the Olympics have been unhappy bedfellows. When he went to Turin as a teenager, a first gold was within his grasp in the team pursuit, but he clipped a lane marker and crashed out, taking his team with him.

But that slip pales into insignificance alongside his Vancouver blunder in the 10,000.

His misery in Canada was compounded when some bad teamwork in the pursuit race again cost the Dutch gold.

“So, all in all, he threw away three gold medals,” Wennemars said in an interview. “If you want to become bigger than the sport, you have to win those.”

Kramer realizes it.

“If I would have taken three gold there, I would have had more peace of mind than I have now,” he said.

Bouncing back from something like that would make the story of redemption so much better.

Against the odds, he stuck with the coach who sent him the wrong way, realizing Gerard Kemkers had led him to his other triumphs. The decision is now seen as a sign of maturity.

After Vancouver, Kramer spent one season on the sidelines injured but has since come back to his best, and is virtually unbeatable on the long distances.

He also learned how to deal with pressure, he said. That is tough in a nation which lives and breathes skating every winter. The Dutch are hoping for a half dozen gold medals in Sochi, and half of them should have Kramer’s name on them.

Most of the seats at the 8,000 capacity Adler Arena speedskating oval are already orange, an army of orange-clad Dutch skating fans will fill most of them once the racing starts.

The popularity of the sport in the Netherlands also means that Kramer will find teammates among his toughest competitors. For Saturday’s 5,000, look for Jorrit Bergsma and Jan Blokhuijsen as the major threats to spoil Kramer’s party.

This year though Kramer is bent on thinking positive only.

“I haven’t been hit by any big setbacks,” Kramer said. The challenge is to keep that going for another month.


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

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