RICHMOND, British Columbia — After 25 mostly lonely laps on Tuesday, his skating partner a speck in the distance behind him, Dutchman Sven Kramer threw his arms in the air. His expected 10,000-meter speedskating victory was bracingly thorough, obliterating an Olympics record that had been set only an hour earlier.
In the Netherlands, speedskating is sporting religion, with flocks of orange-bedecked apostles communing each day at the Richmond Olympic Oval. So Kramer, a baby-faced but coldblooded distance-skating superstar, is indeed an idol. Dutch fans dubbed this the "Svencouver Olympics," and after an apparent second gold medal, they celebrated their well-placed faith.
But moments after Kramer crossed the finish, his coach, Gerard Kemkers, skated to his side. Joy immediately evacuated from Kramer's face. He spiked his wraparound sunglasses to the ground in disgust. He kicked a red lane marker across the ice. In a few words, triumph dissolved into Olympic-sized infamy.
Thanks to an egregious miscommunication, Kramer incorrectly changed lanes with just eight laps remaining in the laborious 10,000-meter race.
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His emphatic winning time of 12:54.50 evaporated.
His gold medal went to Korea's Lee Seung-Hoon. He was left in the infield, incredulous, hands folded, head bowed and shaking.
"Usually, I don't want to blame anyone else, but this time I can't do anything else," Kramer said. "I wanted to go on the outer lane, then just before the cone, Gerard shouted, 'Inner lane.' I thought he's probably right and went to the inner lane.
"You have to decide in a split second. I should have gone with my own thoughts, but I was brought into doubts.
"This really sucks."
Long after the finish, Kemkers offered his explanation with vacant eyes. Three Dutch officials looked on solemnly and sickly, as though watching someone self-immolate. The coach said he was writing down split times, looked up and saw Kramer's skating partner, Russia's Ivan Skobrev, and confusion set in.
He then signaled Kramer to move to the inside on a turn going into the backstretch. With telling tardiness, Kramer barely made it, his right skate swinging around the cone at the end of the lane-change zone.
Imbuing a deeper agony to the moment was the memory of Kemkers' own Olympic foible, a fall in the fifth lap of the 10,000-meter race in the 1988 Winter Games from which he recovered to finish fifth. Still, he considered Tuesday "the worst moment in my career."
"My world collapsed," Kemkers said. "Sven was right. I was wrong."
In context, given the Netherlands' enduring affection for the sport and Kramer's place in it, this was Derek Jeter hitting a World Series-winning home run ... and then forgetting to touch third base rounding the infield. It was LeBron James hitting an NBA Finals-winning shot ... by scoring in the opposition's basket.
And it was the last thing anyone would expect. The 10,000-meter event isn't fertile ground for chaos. It is the most mundane race at the Winter Games, sheer monotony mainly notable for the racers' agonized expressions as their legs turn into gelatin.
In an instant, it became the epicenter of seismic activity, a jarring shift in skate tectonics.
"Sure, the first reaction from me was also, 'What's going on?' " said the Netherlands' Bob de Jong, who took bronze thanks to Kramer's disqualification. "This really sucks for Holland and even for Sven Kramer. You don't want to win like this, but everybody has to cross over 25 times."
Said silver medalist Skobrev: "It's not only about how strong you are, it's how your head is in the race. (Kramer) made a mistake. That's his fault and I feel bad about it.
Afterward, Kramer spoke like a man whose insides had been removed by a backhoe.
His words sputtered out. He gamely tried to protect Kemkers at times, but he also conceded he never once received lane-change advice before Tuesday. He finished four seconds ahead of Lee, seven seconds ahead of Skobrev. He lost when no one came close to beating him.
"At the end of the day, it's my responsibility, you know?" Kramer said. "I'm the skater on the ice, and I have to do it. Maybe it's better to say, we did it wrong."
Shortly after vanishing into the locker room, Kramer reappeared on the back of a 10-speed bicycle, racing through the Richmond Olympic Oval lobby. The small crowd hurried to part as the Dutch star hastened by in a silent exit, pedaling out into the rain.