My world is falling apart. Not only did my prediction of Sven Kramer not come to fruition, but he wasn’t even close. He wasn’t close to his previous world-championship-performance of 12:38, a track record set at the same venue just one year ago, and he wasn’t even close to the podium. All the way up to about halfway through the race, he was about two seconds behind the pace of Ted-Jan Bloemen who had taken the lead in a thrilling finish after leading Jorrit Bergsma in his lap-splits by about 4 seconds and then having that margin slowly eroded to just over 2. Sven was travelling comfortably at a pace roughly between the two, looking to strike at any minute. But as the laps ticked away the gap widened ever so slightly, and when it came time to put the pedal down, there was nothing left to give. Jorrit had skated a very steady 10,000m finishing with his last 7(!) laps all under 30 seconds as if to throw the gauntlet down and dare anyone to come and catch him. World record holder Bloemen stepped up to the challenge, with a lap schedule which started out slightly faster than Bergsma’s and looked to be challenging his own world record at some points, but those last 7 laps tested the Canadian and the lead was reduced to a mere 2 seconds when he crossed the line. He looked well pleased with himself for breaking the Olympic record which had only been broken in the previous pair by Bergsma (it was his record from Sochi) with a time of 12:39.77 which was a challenge to Kramer to beat his world record – which is more or less what Kramer would have to have done in order to skate a faster time. But alas, as the race came to the closing stages, it became apparent that Kramer did not have what it would take, and he slowed so significantly that he would eventually finish outside the top 5 and with a time above 13 minutes – which is not something I think I’ve ever seen him do. But a well-deserved victory for Ted-Jan Bloemen from Canada who becomes the first non-Dutch person to win a speed skating event at these olympics, and the first world record holder to win the event in which they hold the world record at this olympics. In third place, an excellent skate from Nicola Tumolero gives Italy its first olympic medals in speed skating since their home Olympics in Torino in 2006
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After her impressive performance in the Dutch olympic trials, Annouk Van Der Weijden goes into the 5000m as one of the favourites, alongside defending Olympic champion Martina Sablikova from the Czech Republic who will be looking to “do a Sven” in that this is potentially her 3rd Olympic gold medal in a row in the 5000m. The longer distance should favour the Czech skater since, not only is she the world record holder in the distance, but also the world record holder in the 10,000m and has quite the diesel engine. She won the 3000m in Vancouver and claimed a silver medal in the 3k in Sochi, but performed relatively poorly here at the shorter distance – this is due to the fact that the 3k has increasingly become an event dependent on top speed capability rather than just skating consistent flat laps. The 5k however favours those diesel-engined skaters who can smash out lap after lap at sub-top-speed. On the subject of diesel engines, be sure to look out for Germany’s Claudia Pechstein who is skating in her 7th Olympic games (I may have mentioned that already, but it bears repeating because of its significance), Claudia has actually already done a Sven (perhaps we should say the Sven “did a Claudia” but somehow that sounds wrong) and she comes into this event having won not only the last 5000m that was contested in the world cup series of competitions, but Olympic gold medals in the distance from Lillehammer 1994, Nagano 1998, and Salt Lake City 2002, and she still holds the Olympic record. Lastly, watch out for Esmee Visser from the Netherlands, an incredible up-and-coming talent who surprised everyone at Dutch Olympic trials by coming second (and not by much) in spectacular fashion. She is on form, and has been hitting personal bests in her recent practice races.
My prediction is a Sablikova gold, followed by Visser and Van der Weijden. There is no longer a possibility of another Dutch podium sweep as it was in the 3000m because of the lowered per-country entry quotas, but Pechstein and Sablikova, who are both stronger in this distance, would have likely been able to prevent it even if it were possible.
Follow the action live from 8:00pm local time (noon in Berlin) with my live commentary of the event.