Dutch masters of speedskating

The Netherlands leads the medal table at Sochi with an astounding 19 medals at the oval

By Raf Casert / The Associated Press

Another sweep

Of the 10 speedskating sweeps in Olympic history, four have come by the Dutch this year.

Men

500: Sven Kramer, Jan Blokhuijsen, Jorrit Bergsma

5,000: Michel Mulder, Jan Smeekens, Ronald Mulder)

10,000: Bergsma, Kramer, Bob de Jong

Women

1,500: Jorien Ter Mors, Ireen Wust, Lotte van Beek

SOCHI, Russia — Want to know how deep skating talent is in the Netherlands? Consider this: Olympic 10,000-meter champion Jorrit Bergsma thought about representing Kazakhstan at the last Olympics just to make it to Vancouver.

Qualifying for the Dutch team seemed too tough.

“We almost went to the games as Kazakhs,” he said of his training group of the time. In the end, Bergsma stuck with his native country, even though it meant missing out on the Vancouver Games.

“I am happy it finished this way,” he said after heading another Dutch sweep of the big oval at Adler Arena on Tuesday.

Bergsma’s possible nationality switch shows the lengths to which Dutch skaters are prepared to go in order to qualify for the Olympics.

Beating favorite Sven Kramer and 37-year-old veteran Bob de Jong, he led a record fourth 1-2-3 finish for the Netherlands.

Its speedskating medal haul climbed to an unprecedented 19 out of a possible 27, choking out traditional powerhouses like the United States and Germany.

With the help of a lone bronze in short track skating, the Netherlands shared the overall Sochi Games medal standings lead Tuesday night with 20, level with the United States.

From an early age, the competition is fierce and it spreads right into the professional ranks where seven commercial teams provide jobs for 60 professional skaters.

Bergsma could have been rewarded with a reportedly huge windfall — and an apartment and a car — had he won gold for Kazakhstan, but his patriotic pride trumped all that.

“I am happy I stuck to skating for the Netherlands,” he said.