'Historic Mistake' Costs Dutch Skater Olympic Gold
Dutch skating star Sven Kramer was well on his way to winning a gold medal in the men's 10,000-meter speedskating event Tuesday night when his coach shouted at him to switch lanes.
He did. Big mistake.
Kramer crossed the finish line in what would have been an Olympic record time and raised his arms in triumph. Then his coach, Gerard Kemkers, had to tell him he'd been disqualified — for an illegal lane change.
"His coach had a complete blackout," says Jaap de Groot, chief sports editor for the Dutch newspaper The Telegraph, who was in the Richmond Olympic Oval for the shocking mistake.
"He thought [Kramer] had to go to the inner lane instead of the outer lane. And then he panicked and pointed his finger to the inner lane and shouted to Kramer to change his route," de Groot tells NPR's Melissa Block.
Before the gaffe, de Groot says, the atmosphere in the stadium was euphoric, as Dutch fans in orange cheered the man they thought was sure to win Olympic gold.
"When he made a mistake, I think only a couple of people realized it. And I think it took about one or two minutes till the rest of the crowd understood what was going on," de Groot says. "And while he was skating, he felt that the noise went down and ... all the sudden, he was skating as a champion but in [completely] silent surroundings. He [said] later that that aspect made him realize that something was wrong."
So wrong that his coach later called it the worst moment of his career.
Kramer was furious after the race, but he had "more or less neutralized his opinion about his coach" by the time of the official post-race news conference, de Groot says.
"He said, 'OK, he made a mistake, that's clear, and I lost a gold because of that.' ... He was, of course, asked if he would split with his coach, and he said, 'No, it's too soon — it's not the time to talk about this,' " de Groot says.
While Kemkers has said he plans to put the mistake behind him, de Groot doesn't think it will be that easy. Speedskating is the Netherlands' national sport.
"I think he underestimates the reactions in Holland, because the reactions were furious," de Groot says.
Kramer seems to be putting the error out of his mind for now — at least until after Saturday's team event.
"I think after Saturday, things will become serious between him and his team and his coach," de Groot says, adding that he wouldn't be surprised if the relationship between coach and skater ends soon after the Olympics.
"This is not just a mistake. And Sven Kramer has for years been focused on getting at least three gold medals at this Olympics. He's now going to get a maximum of two," de Groot says.
"This is a historic mistake. I think in Holland, over 50 years, we will still remember this mistake."
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