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Speed Skating

The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Ireen Wust gives Netherlands another speedskating gold, winning 3,000 metres

Posted: 02/9/2014 7:35 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 02/9/2014 11:40 AM

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SOCHI, Russia - Ireen Wust held up three fingers.

One nail was painted red. The others were white and blue.

Gold would've worked, too.

Wust claimed a speedskating gold medal at her third straight Winter Olympics, knocking off defending champion Martina Sablikova in the 3,000 metres Sunday. That made the Netherlands 2-for-2 at Adler Arena, the world's dominant speedskating country living up to his billing through the first weekend in Sochi.

"Seventeen million Dutch wanted me to win," said Wust, who painted her nails in the colours of the Dutch flag. "Now the extreme pressure is off, and I can win more."

Skating in the second-last pairing on sea-level ice that wore down some other top contenders, including Germany's Claudia Pechstein, the winner looked strong all the way through. She won with a time of four minutes 0.34 seconds, easily beating the number Sablikova had just put up in the previous pairing.

"The relief is immense," Wust said, "and the satisfaction even greater."

Sablikova, of the Czech Republic, settled for the silver in 4:01.95, clapping for her rival after Wust crossed the line.

The bronze went to Olga Graf, who gave host Russia its first medal of the Winter Games in 4:03.47. That sent the crowd into a frenzy — and even brought kudos from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"You brought an unforgettable moment of triumph and utter joy to millions of fans by taking the first medal for our team," Putin said.

Winnipeg's Brittany Schussler was the top Canadian, finishing 19th in 4:14.65. Ottawa's Ivanie Blondin was 24th in 4:18.70.

Pechstein was looking to win her 10th Olympic medal at age 41, but the German faded badly over the final laps and missed the podium. She was fourth in 4:05.26.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima were again in the crowd, just as they were the day before when Sven Kramer took gold in the men's 5,000. The royal couple saw another winning performance by their speedskating-mad country.

The Dutch now have captured 29 Olympic golds, pulling even with the U.S. for the most victories in the sport.

The 27-year-old Wust kept holding up three fingers, which was only appropriate. She has been on top at three straight Olympics, claiming the 3,000 at the 2006 Turin Games and the 1,500 at Vancouver in 2010.

Wust came to Sochi as the skater to beat after winning the European overall title last month. She lived up to the billing, becoming the most decorated Dutch female Winter Olympian with three golds and a silver.

"It's three in a row," Wust said, "and I want to become even more unique."

Her celebration was certainly one-of-a-kind. Wust went sliding on her rear toward the barrier lining the outside lane — the only time she went down all day.

The other two medallists also whooped it up. Sablikova, who won gold in both the 3,000 and 5,000 at the Vancouver Games, didn't seem to mind giving back one of her titles.

"Wust was simply very fast today and nobody could fight her," Sablikova said.

No one was more thrilled than Graf, who glided around the rink on one skate like she was flying and nearly caused herself some major embarrassment when she unzipped her skin-tight suit on a triumphant warm-down lap — then zipped it back up quickly when she realized there was nothing on underneath.

"I totally forgot," she said sheepishly through a translator. "We have very good suits and they are very tight and I just did not know what to (do).

"You just want to breathe and you want to take off your suit and only afterward did I realize that maybe this video will appear on YouTube. But I don't think it will be so bad."

Pechstein looked like a skater approaching her 42nd birthday, unable to channel her anger over missing the Vancouver Games into a medal-winning performance. She was suspended over abnormal blood levels, even though she had never failed a doping test and steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

She'll have another chance for that 10th medal in the 5,000.

"Finishing fourth at 41, that isn't that bad," Pechstein said. "The ice quality was tough but it was the same for everyone. I didn't feel as old as I am. I'm feeling good about the 5k. I can still get my medal there."

Jilleanne Rookard of Woodhaven, Mich., who skated in the pairing with Graf, was the highest-finishing American. She took 10th out of 28 skaters in 4:10.02. Anna Ringsred of Duluth, Minn., was 27th.

___

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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