- Speed Skating
Dutch success leaves others feeling sick
SOCHI, Russia, Feb 18 - The flying Dutchmen all made it look so easy. Propelled by legs as thick as tree trunks, they turned speed skating's longest and most grueling event into a bright orange procession.
Just as they have throughout the whole Sochi Winter Olympics, the Dutch skaters gave their rivals no chance at the Adler Arena they have magically transformed into their own golden pond.
Of the 27 medals that have been awarded so far in speed skating, the Netherlands has scooped up 19, but no race underpins their total dominance more than the 10,000m.
While thousands of words have already been written and spoken about the graceful way the Dutch skaters glide their way around the rink, just two are needed to sum up what most of their competitors feel after they finish the 25-lap race.
They are printed in large black letters on the outside of a handful of little red plastic buckets and the labels need no explanation: "vomit bin."
Embedded owg_slideshow: Jorrit Bergsma wins 10,000m gold, Kramer takes silver
Of the 14 entrants in Tuesday's race, only one felt nauseous enough to call for the bucket, the American teenager Emery Lehmann, but the mere fact they are needed at all says everything about the lung-bursting race.
Apart from the Dutch, all the competitors looked in agony when they finished. Gasping for air and with their faces wretched in pain, they could hardly lift their heads as they slowly drifted to a halt.
When they left the rink and return to the warm-up area their legs appear as stiff as wooden planks because of all the lactic acid that builds up, then they crumble to the floor and remain there until they catch their breath.
Germany's Patrick Beckert was just one of the skaters in a world of pain after he finished sixth, more than half a minute behind Bergsma.
"My stomach cramped and my legs started stiffening," he said. "And my body started weakening."
Knowing that their prospects of winning a medal are remote, most competitors, who race in pairs against the clock, turn their heats into their own private races.
Long before the higher-seeded Dutch skaters came out, Lehman and Russia's Yevgeny Seryatev staged a classic battle. With the crowd roaring them on, they went stride for stride for almost the whole way before lunging across the finish line together.
After 25 agonizing laps over 10,000m, just 0.07 seconds separated them, with the Russian getting the verdict to finish ninth, one place ahead of Lehman, who then went in search of the vomit bin.
"I was really happy that I didn't give the finish to the American," Seryatev said.
"I saw his blade at the finish line and tried to win the 'cold war'. After that, no one can say that the 10,000m is a boring race."
Embedded owg_slideshow: Emery Lehman takes Olympic Trials
The pair embraced at the finish, displaying a mutual respect and camaraderie among the competitors that doesn't exist in a lot of the shorter races.
And now they have a united cause amid calls for the race to be ditched from the Olympics.
In recent years, the International Olympic Committee has made a number of changes to the Winter program in an attempt to make it more appealing to younger people.
Speculation about the 10,000 has intensified after one Russian and three Norwegian entrants pulled out to focus on the team pursuit, where at least two medals will be up for grabs with the Dutch only able to win one.
"I think that is absolutely crazy. People can speculate all they want and this conversation comes up every eight years or so, but I think more than anything, we have to re-evaluate how the programmes are set up at the Olympics," said American Patrick Meek, who finished 11th.
"I can understand the Norwegians pulling out of the 10k to get ready for the pursuit, but maybe we need to look at how the days are structured.
"Some of the most iconic moments in speed skating were at the 10,000m. I think even suggesting that we should do away with this race is completely insane."
Embedded video_content_type: The pain of speed skating glory
Best of Sochi
Best of Sochi