Winter Olympics: Aerodynamic Dutch strike it rich in medals and records

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The Independent Online
The Netherlands claimed gold and silver medals in the men's 5,000 metres speed skating event on the second day of the Nagano Winter Olympics thanks to revolutionary new rubber strips on their skaters' suits. Gianni Romme stormed to the title as the world record was broken three times inside an hour.

The strips, which improve aerodynamics and decrease drag, have been banned in Alpine skiing but were developed at Delft University and approved just two days ago by the International Skating Union.

All three medal winners surpassed the old mark, with Belgian Bart Veldkamp (bronze) beginning the record-breaking by clocking 6min 28.31sec to set a mark which lasted barely a quarter of an hour.

Then the European champion Rintje Ritsma set a new mark of 6:28.24, which would eventually earn him silver, in his Olympic farewell season.

Romme then pulverised his own two-month-old record that had stood at the start of the day by 8.43sec to finish in 6:22.20sec on a rink previously rated as too hard to allow a serious crack at world records.

A notoriously fast starter known to fade over the final laps, Romme immediately sent the Dutch fans into a frenzy. He was already three seconds ahead of Ritsma's pace five laps into the race, and almost six seconds in front when the bell sounded for the final lap.

So dominant was Romme that he let up slightly at the end, rising from his crouch as he crossed the line and smiled as the scoreboard showed his record time. "It was a great feeling to race that way," Romme said. "When I saw them beat the record I wanted to defend it."

The new suits were causing some controversy. "A suit is supposed to follow the body's normal shape and this is not the normal shape," Sven Harvard Sletter, Norway's head coach, said.

The Dutch coach, Henk Gemser, said that following the ISU's approval of the suit, his team were ready to offer it to the rest of the world.

"I try to be professional - I need to do all that is in the rules to win the first prize," said Gemser. "Maybe it helped us - but what counted most was good skating and techniques."

NAGANO TIMETABLE

(All Times GMT)

Today

Alpine skiing: Men's combined slalom 01.15.

Nordic skiing: Men's 30km classical 00.00.

Snowboarding: Women's giant slalom 00.30.

Biathlon: Women's 15km 04.00.

Luge: Men's singles 05.00.

Speed skating: Men's 500m first round 07.30.

Curling: Women's matches, including Japan v Britain 00.00; men's matches, including Norway v Britain 05.00

Ice hockey: Men: Germany v Belarus 05.00, Japan v France 09.00. Women: Finland v Japan 03.00; US v Sweden 07.00; Canada v China 11.00.

TV times

BBC2: 07.45-08.45; 12.30-14.40; 19.00-20.30. BBC1: 23.50-03.00. Eurosport: 24-hour coverage.

Tomorrow

Alpine skiing: Women's super G, men's combined (downhill) 01.15.

Nordic skiing: Women's 5km classical 00.00.

Speed skating: Men's 500m, second race 07.30.

Figure skating: Pairs free programme 11.00.

Ice hockey: Men: Kazakhstan v Slovakia, Belarus v Japan, both 05.00; Italy v Austria, France v Germany, both 09.00.

Luge: Women's singles, first run 05.00.

Curling: Men's matches, including Switzerland v Britain 00.00 and Canada v Britain 10.00. Women's matches including Norway v Britain 05.00.

TV times

BBC2: 07.45-08.45; 12.30-14.40; 19.00-20.30. BBC1: 23.50-04.30.

Eurosport: 24-hour coverage.

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