BRUSSELS (AP) – Olympic champions Sven Kramer and Ireen Wuest are leading a strong Dutch team to the speedskating oval in South Korea.
After five days of qualifying, it is clear that the Dutch might not be as all-powerful as they were four years ago in Sochi, but it will still be extremely tough to keep them off the top of the speedskating medal table at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Triple Olympic champion Kramer will be going for his third 5,000-meter gold in a row and try to finally add a 10,000 title. He will also be seeking to push the Dutch pursuit team to a second gold in a row.
Wuest, already a four-time champion, also has her sights set on at least three more golds, with the 1,500, 3,000 and team pursuit topping her list.
The Dutch piled up eight golds and 23 medals overall in a dozen events on the Sochi big oval in 2014 – nearly twice as many medals as every other country combined.
This time though, the Japanese women’s team has impressed and the United States is intent on bouncing back from a horrible no-medal show four years ago. Criteria limiting entries per nation to two instead of three competitors for some races also makes another all-orange show less likely.
If both Wuest and Kramer are 30-somethings likely heading for their last Olympics, the speedskating-mad nation is already turning its eyes toward Antoinette de Jong. At 22, she is almost more of a rival to Wust than she is a teammate.
At the qualifiers, she had her full coming-of-age moment before 10,000 fans at the Thialf oval when she beat Wust in the 3,000, where the veteran already has two gold medals.
The biggest star of the five days was Kjeld Nuis, who won both the 1,000 and 1,500, both in stirring duels with Koen Verweij.
In a big surprise of the past week, 1,500 Olympic champion Jorien ter Mors failed to qualify for the event, citing unspecified physical setbacks.
And in the comeback of the qualifying week, 10,000 Olympic champion Jorrit Bergsma qualified for the games after a disappointing season and a failed attempt to get into the Dutch 5,000 team.