South Koreans, Dutch lead team pursuit qualifying
By RAF CASERT, AP Sports Writer
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Second is never good enough for the Dutch in speedskating, and when it happens in the men’s team pursuit qualifying, it means trouble.
The strongest speedskating nation could not beat the qualifying time of South Korea but still comfortably reached Wednesday’s semifinal stage along with New Zealand and Norway.
The Dutch will meet Norway in a contest between European speedskating powers for a spot in the final. If they had lived up to expectations, their semifinal rival would have been the less fancied New Zealanders.
It makes everyone that little bit more nervous. Based on pedigree and quality of skaters, the Netherlands should win any team pursuit event but, since the event was introduced at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, the return has been one of three.
It makes the selection of the three racers a closely watched event, with Koen Verweij form on Sunday putting him under scrutiny. Immediately there were questions whether the gold medal-winning team of Sochi 2014 should be shaken up.
“We will talk about it,” Verweij said of the possibility of him being kicked off the team. “It is not up to me, but I don’t think so.”
“We are four and if someone else needs to get in, we’ll do it.”
There were no such issues for the host nation, which defied expectations. Veteran Lee Seung-hoon led two teenagers around as the South Koreans finished fastest in 3 minutes 39.29 seconds, an edge of 0.74 over the Dutch.
“We did fine until the last two laps and then got into trouble,” Dutch veteran Sven Kramer said.
The team of three needs to stay close, skate in rhythm and seamlessly alternate leaders, allowing one skater to head the trio as another peels off and glides to the back.
That is the theory. If someone tires too soon, it can get messy.
“In the past we have seen that if one is in trouble, the team disintegrates,” Kramer said of previous Dutch failures. “Not now. Someone can have a bad day but we needed to stick together.”
No such luck for the Canadians, who were supposed to be medal contenders, particularly after Ted-Jan Bloemen won the 10,000 meters.
“I was really looking forward to this team effort. I really wanted to celebrate another medal,” Bloemen said.
One behind Canada, the United States finished in last place.
“We fumbled a little bit in the middle of the race and it is hard to get back,” Joey Mantia said. “We knew the target time and fell shy.”