GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) As always, when his rivals suddenly felt that pain in their legs, that burning in their lungs, Sven Kramer kept his mighty, unmatched stride going.
”I never saw that wall,” he said.
Kramer won the 5,000 meters at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Sunday for his third straight gold medal over the distance, becoming the first man to achieve that streak.
The only thing that really burned inside the Dutch speedskater was ambition, untamed at 31. And even when the gold was surely his, Kramer still shot that skate across the line to ensure he got the Olympic record, too.
”It never gets old. The Games never get old,” he said. It was his fourth career gold medal and eighth overall spread over a dozen years, putting him among the greats of the Winter Games.
Yet there’s little time for celebration, with at least two more golds to chase. And one he previously let slip away in a blunder for the ages – the 10,000.
At the Vancouver Olympics, with gold beckoning, Kramer inexplicably made a wrong lane change late in a race he was comfortably leading.
”It’s not a secret that it’s really important to me. I’ve won a lot at the Olympics, but I’ve lost a lot as well.”
On Sunday, Kramer also gave the Netherlands its second gold medal in as many races at the Olympic oval. This time, though, it was no sweep like in the women’s 3,000.
Kramer’s two other teammates finished outside the top six. The Dutch know though they can almost always count on Kramer.
For the other medals, Dutch-born Canadian Ted-Jan Bloemen fought back with a desperate drive to the line to kick his skate just in front of Sverre Lunde Pedersen and beat the Norwegian by .0002 seconds for silver.
”I was lucky to have such a great pair, to have such a great fight at the end of the race,” Bloemen said. ”The last corner I could barely stand on my legs.”
While others were counting in thousandths of seconds, Kramer was aiming higher, beating his rivals by 1.85 seconds. Skating last as the favorite, he knew what time he needed to chase for gold.
”Of course, it makes a difference if you know the times beforehand, but you still have to do it,” Kramer said.
He used his typical late kick to make the difference, taking the lead two-thirds of the way through the race and letting his massive stride do the rest to finish in 6 minutes, 9.76 seconds, beating the Olympic record he set four years ago in Sochi by exactly one second.
It has happened so often in his career. When others suddenly lose their stride through fatigue, he knows Kramer time has come.
”Their legs were blowing up a bit at the end,” Kramer said. ”I thought, it’s going to be tough, but it’s the time to skate.”
Once across the line, he held up three fingers. The orange-clad fans in the stands went wild. The triple in the 5,000 is special, though.
”It sounds great, of course. I’d be lying if I said it does nothing to me,” Kramer said. ”Secretly, I’m proud.”
So for now, he will keep the celebrations muted.
”I still have to do the 10 and the team pursuit and the mass start, so I’m not going to the Holland Heineken House,” Kramer said, referring to the place where Dutch speedskating gold medals are always wildly celebrated.
Was it his last Olympic 5,000 race? ”Ooh, no idea. In normal circumstances, yes. I am starting to get old. You never know.”
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