Shattered gold: The fall of a champion

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February 23rd Richmond Olympic Oval, Vancouver. This should have been the perfect date and place for Sven Kramer, a Dutch speed skater, to write history and see all his hard work over the past four years being paid out in gold in the 10k speed skating for men. Since the winter Olympics 2006 of Torino, Italy, the famous Dutch speed skater had only lost two 5k races and one 10k race in competition. The skaters who defeated him in those 5k races and the 10k race weren’t competing in the 10k race in Vancouver. His fellow Dutchman Carl Verheijen didn’t qualify for the Olympics due to the fierce competition in The Netherlands. And the Italian Enrico Fabris, who’s already having a very unsuccessful Olympics, withdrew from the 10k because of nausea. The unbelievable amount of wins and the ease of which they came with over the past four years had made him “The King of the long distances”.

An upcoming skater Havard Bokko had shown some real progression the past two years and may have been a serious contender for the 10k gold medal.Sadly for him, his training preparations were compromised when his coach Peter Muller got into trouble with the Norwegian speed skating federation and a fall during the European Championship All Round resulted in an injury.  Once at the Olympics, in the lead up to the 10k event, Bokko disappointed on the 5k with a fourth place but fought back with a bronze medal on the 1,500 meters.

With Kramer already winning the gold on the 5k there were no doubts about his great form and position as the favorite for the 10k. Every network station covering the winter Olympics were reporting that his name was already written on the medal and he would only have to skate to the finish to collect it. Everyone was certain that nobody would be able to touch his position as the best skater on the 10k. Then Kramer got the draw he wanted by starting in the eight and final race. Knowing the times of the competitors in the races before him would give him the information about the time he would have to beat to get his second gold medal at the 2010 winter Olympics.

In the first few races of the 10k final, the skaters times were not concerning. But in the fifth race, the Korean Seung-Hoon Lee who surprised the world by winning the silver medal in the 5k event, clocked a challenging time. Would this Korean, participating both in speed skating and short track be able to surprise the speed skating world again by getting a medal on the 10k?

The competitors in the races following Seung-Hoon Lee were not able to produce a new best time, so Kramer new his task. He had to beat his direct opponent Ivan Skobrev and the 12:58:55 set by Seung-Hoon Lee. A task easily within his capabilities as he had clocked faster times on multiple occasions.

Skobrev and Kramer lined up at the start waiting for the starter to send them off for 25 thrilling laps. The bar wasn’t set too high for Kramer so it seemed that only a mistake made by himself could keep him away from claiming his rightfully owned golden medal. The first 15 laps went as planned. He was ahead of his direct opponent Skobrev with a safe margin, so that danger was under control. With 9 laps to go, Kramer then surpassed Lee’s time by 2.9 seconds, creating a safe margin that almost ensured him a victory. When Kramer’s coach, Gerard Kemkers, saw the lead on Lee he skated to the side to write that difference on a white board to inform Kramer. His eyes were diverted for only a few moments but when Kemkers looked back up at the race, his skater had already made his way from the inside lane, to the straight close and onto the outside preparing to change to the outer lane. Having failed to see the transition, the coach thought that Kramer came out of the outer lane and had to move to the inner lane. So right before the corner he spoke and pointed to Kramer to take the inner lane. In a split second choice Kramer jumped towards the inner lane. About 5 seconds after that Skobrev turned into the inner lane too and Kemkers realized his unbelievable mistake. He kept coaching Kramer just like nothing was wrong. Kramer went on to win the race easily with a 4 second lead over Lee throwing his hands up in victory as he skated over the line. However, within moments after the finish he understood something was wrong from the crowds reaction. As he passed by his coach he was informed of his disqualification due to the incorrect lane change, and furiously threw his glasses away. Due to his coach’s mistake Kramer’s dream was destroyed. If the ice in the Olympic oval could have represented Kramer’s dream, it would have broken into a million pieces at the moment he heard the horrible news.

So who is to blame for the fall of a sure champion? Shattered dreams from one horrible mistake. It is easy to lay blame on Kramer’s coach for such a tragic result when it was his instructions that caused the athlete to be disqualified. If not for his interference, the training hours and competition experience logged by Kramer would have allowed him to stay focused in his race rhythm and change to the right lane.

However, in this humble author’s opinion, the Olympic rules could also be blamed in this situation. In non-olympic events, a third assistant is allowed to assist the coach, the person showing the lap times and the skater on the side lines. In the Olympics, this third assistant is not permitted. Therefore, when the coach had to write down a message to Kramer on his board, he was not able to keep watch on his skater at the same time. He lost track of his skater. In a non-olympic event, with the assistance of a third person, this mistake would not occur.

The moment where Kramer’s Olympic dreams were shattered was broadcasted across the world for all to see. His frustration and gut wrenching disappointment in having his medal denied to him from such a terrible mistake will become a historic moment long remembered after the end of the 2010 winter Olympics. However, as a young man, Kramer has the potential to fight back and try again in 2014. Therefore, the question remains, can Kramer now overcome this heart aching set back and rise again to rightfully claim his prize? Proving himself a true champion that is able to overcome all adversity to achieve his dreams. If Kramer does compete in 2014, there should be no doubt that people will unite across the world to cheer this man onto victory.

But fierce competition will definitely come upon Kramer in Sochi 2014 with young talents like Bokko and Lee only getting stronger and faster as well. Especially Lee, who made the step from being a successful short tracker to becoming a speed skater. After winning gold on the 10k he already said that he looks forward to competing with Kramer in Sochi. After only a few 10k races in competition he has already shown the world that he deserves to be considered amongst the current champions and is ranked as on of the favorites while he continues to close in on Kramer’s times.

These young challengers and the desire to finally capture that rightfully owned golden medal on the 10k might give Kramer just the edge he needs to skate the best race of his life in Sochi 2014. The thought of passing the finish line with his hands up high in the air in a new Olympic record and taking the gold will be all the motivation Kramer needs to push himself to his limits for another four years till Sochi.

Only he will be able to give this story the beautiful ending it deserves. The countdown to Sochi 2014 has started…

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