The Dutch are too much.
Six medals have been given out in mens long-track speed skating at the Sochi Olympics and, as of Monday, the criteria for winning them appears to be: skate fast, carry a Dutch passport.
While the dominance isn't a total surprise, given that long-track speed skating is to the Netherlands what hockey is to Canada, or what swimming is to fish, the consecutive podium sweeps have become one of the remarkable early stories from the Sochi Olympics.
It began with a commanding sweep in the mens 5,000-metre event on Saturday, and was duplicated in the mens 500-metre sprint on Monday. And for good measure, Dutchwoman Irene Wust won gold in her 3,000-metre skate on Sunday, making it seven of nine long-track medals the country has claimed so far.
"Those times are ridiculously fast," Canadian skater Jamie Gregg said of the Dutch performances on Monday. "It's what they do, and they're showing that they're really awesome at it."
Gregg and teammate Gilmore Junio were both in medal contention Monday with 10 skaters to go. Unfortunately that group included Michel Mulder, the eventual gold-medalist with a combined time of 69.312 seconds over two races, Jan Smeekens, who was a hundredth of a second back for silver, and Ronald Mulder, who was 0.15 seconds behind for the bronze.
Junio finished 10th, with a time of 70.25 seconds, while Gregg finished 11th (70.27). Canadian William Dutton was 14th (70.448), while Muncef Ouardi placed 25th (70.997).
Canada has long been a global force in long-track, including the retired Jeremy Wotherspoon who still holds the world record in the 500-metre event (68.31 seconds). But the difference on display in Sochi this week is that the Dutch treat speed skating much the same way Canada approaches hockey. It's no amateur pursuit.
"They're professional athletes, they get big money to skate, and it's hard to compete with that I think," said Gregg. "We do a pretty good job, I have an awesome coaching staff -- I think I have the best coaching staff in the world -- and so that helps."
"But at the same time, they can focus 100 per cent of their energy on skating, training and all that. It's easy to do when you get paid the big money."
Gregg said there are no excuses to be made, only training to be done.
"It’s not an excuse," he said. "We need to figure out as Canada how to bring our best races for competition time… we've got to figure out a way to increase our depth and try to catch them."
Junio, who is one of Canada's top up-and-coming long-track speed skaters, said his top-10 performance was good for his first Olympics, though he was hoping for a podium finish before the Orange crush hit.
"I'm happy with a top-10 performance, but I'm not going to lie, I was kind of hoping to be in the top three and hopefully getting a medal for Canada," Junio said. "It's a little bittersweet, but definitely moving forward I think things are going in the right direction -- and hopefully we can prevent sweeps in the future."
Amid the on-ice prowess being shown by the Dutch, there has been much talk about the interior of the 8,000-seat Adler Arena. Speed skaters from several countries can't help but point out that the building has been constructed with orange seats, orange piping and orange padding around the track. That also happens to be the national colour of the Netherlands, and the hue its fans famously wear to events.
After competing Saturday, U.S. speed skater Patrick Meek joked that Sochi organizers may have inadvertently given the Dutch home-ice advantage by making the building orange.
"The building is a little too orange for my tastes," Meek said, half joking. "Come on Russians! Make it red or something. Don't help these guys out… The last thing the Dutch need is home field advantage."
But the Adler Arena isn't just owned by the Dutch on the ice, turns out they actually helped build the place. When the Russians sought out the world's foremost experts to build the oval, they turned to Dutchman Bertus Butter, who has designed several tracks around the world. No one's saying, but he may have had a hand in the decor too.
Even with all the wins, Canadian skaters say the Dutch are tough to dislike.
"They're all really good guys," Dutton said. "I think they skated well and they deserved it."
But when are they going to let someone else have a shot? "Next time," Dutton said.
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