Michel Mulder “lost,” then won, the men’s 500m Winter Olympics speedskating title by one-hundredth of a second in a dramatic finale at Sochi’s Adler Arena on Monday, with twin brother Ronald Mulder taking bronze in another Dutch clean sweep of medals in Russia.
Defending champion Mo Tae-bum of South Korea clocked in a combined 69.69 seconds from his two 500m races to finish fourth, while Taiwan’s Sung Ching-yang was way back 2.05 seconds adrift with a total of 71.36. The Taiwanese 21-year-old’s performance saw him place 33 out of 39 overall.
After logging a combined 69.312 from his races, Michel Mulder sat and watched as compatriot Jan Smeekens crossed the line in the final heat and was placed top of the leaderboard on the giant screen.
Smeekens skated down the back straight celebrating, but the official timings then showed that the duo were level, before adjusting to reveal a 0.012 difference — in favor of Michel Mulder.
“When he crossed the line, I thought we were equal, I knew my total,” Michel Mulder told reporters. “I saw ‘1’ against his name and I thought maybe they correctly pointed out who was fastest in thousands of a second and I thought I was second.”
“[Then] I looked at the board and saw his time was going one-hundredth up. At first I didn’t believe it and wasn’t sure, but then soon enough, I saw my name on top of the list and knew it was a official result,” he added.
The Dutch have won seven of the nine medals available at the Adler Arena so far and the Mulders became the first twins to medal in the same individual Winter Olympics event since US duo Phil and Steven Mahre achieved the feat in alpine skiing at the 1984 Games.
The gold was a record 30th for the Dutch in speedskating. They had been tied on 29 with the US.
While the 27-year-old Michel Mulder ripped open his suit and screamed in delight at winning gold, Smeekens struggled to sum up the pain of having it snatched away.
“It was a kick in the gut,” said Smeekens, who added that he thought he had won for about “two or three minutes. I was so ecstatic that I won, I can’t describe it.”
He said he could not believe the margin of victory, adding: “I have never seen it in my career and I don’t think we will see it again.”
Smeekens topped the time sheets after the first run with a blistering 34.59 seconds to leave the Mulder twins and Mo trailing.
In the second run, Ronald Mulder had a best-of-the-day 34.49 seconds to jump from sixth into gold-medal position with six skaters left.
Michel Mulder then bettered his twin brother’s times in the penultimate heat against a disappointing Mo before the final pairing drama.
Smeekens, who finished sixth in Vancouver, said he had failed in a protest at the decision.
“There was a photo-finish and the judges said it was legitimate. I have to believe them and I have to congratulate Michel and Roland as well. It’s special. I am proud of them, but the disappointment is overwhelming right now,” he said.
Roland Mulder finished 0.15 seconds behind his brother to complete the second speedskating clean sweep for the Dutch at Sochi.
“If your twin brother becomes Olympic champion and you win bronze you have to be satisfied,” the bronze medalist said.
Yet the excitement at Adler Arena did not stop Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has staked his personal and political prestige on a successful Games, from taking a swipe at his detractors, saying that Western criticism of the event was reminiscent of Cold War ambitions to hold back the Soviet Union.
“Back in Cold War times, the theory of containment was created,” he told a televised public meeting in Sochi on Monday. “This theory and its practice were aimed at restraining the development of the Soviet Union... what we see now are echoes of this containment theory.”
A day earlier, the 61-year-old had been all smiles, as state TV captured him congratulating the victorious Russian skaters and urging the team to greater sporting glory.
On the team was diminutive 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaya, whose performance melted hearts and had commentators gushing, but there were no more gold medals for Russia on Monday.
Defending champ Alex Bilodeau led a Canadian one-two in the men’s freestyle skiing moguls, putting his country atop the medals table with three golds, three silvers and a bronze.
France claimed its first title of the Games when Martin Fourcade won the biathlon 12.5km pursuit. Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen finished came to miss out on a record 13th Winter Games medal.
In the high-velocity, notoriously unpredictable sport of short track, Canada’s Charles Hamelin grabbed the 1,500m gold before lunging over the barriers to wrap his girlfriend and teammate Marianne St-Gelais in a hug.
Germany’s Maria Hoefl-Riesch retained her Olympic super combined title with a slalom surge amid the peaks of the Caucasus Mountains
Meanwhile, the Canadian curling team had a sobering opening day of action at the Ice Cube Curling Center as the overwhelming gold-medal favorites only managed to scrape past unheralded Germany 11-8 and followed that with a surprise 5-4 loss to Switzerland in the evening.
The Canadians’ struggles have given renewed hope to their rivals, specially Sweden, who top the standings with a 2-for-2 record.
“I’m a little bit surprised,” Sweden’s Fredrik Lindberg said. “But they have never been abroad to play a championship and that’s something to consider.”
Sweden’s two wins have come against two of their fiercest rivals in Europe: a tense 7-5 win over European champions Switzerland and an 8-4 victory against Britain.
Joining Sweden in making a good start to round-robin play was Norway, the 2010 silver medalists.
The Norwegians were the talk of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 for wearing a range of funky, diamond-printed pants. They are continuing the trend in Sochi, where they donned the Ice Blocks range, a mixture of red, white, blue and gray squares and rectangles.
“We have so many things going on in the closet right now,” Norway curler Haavard Vad Petersson said. “We just have to try to get through them all.”
Yesterday’s biggest winner was arguably India, after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) lifted the country’s suspension, allowing Indians to compete under their flag for the rest of the Games.
The committee’s executive board reinstated India’s Olympic body after a weekend ballot.
India was suspended in December 2012 for electing scandal-tainted Abhay Chautala as president and Lalit Bhanot as secretary-general of its Olympic body.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the lifting takes immediate effect, meaning cross-country skier Nadeem Iqbal and slalom skier Hamanshu Thakur are now free to compete for India.
Additional reporting by staff writer