VANCOUVER, via satellite -- It would have gone down as one of the great gaffes in sports history, if it had been in a sport that anyone cared about. It would have been right there with the World Series grounder that went through the legs of Red Sox first-baseman Bill Buckner. It would have been right next to Dallas Cowboy Leon Lett's premature celebration for his presumed Super Bowl touchdown. It would have been right along with the non-existent timeout that Michigan's Chris Webber called in the waning seconds of UNC’s NCAA basketball championship victory.
And, actually, it will -- in the Netherlands. I am speaking, of course, of Dutch speed skater Sven Kramer's Olympic-record, gold-medal winning performance that never happened – officially – in the 10,000-meter final at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
For those of you who didn't see it live (that is, for the non-Dutch in my reading audience), Sven Kramer, 23, is the current Dutch, European and World All-Around Speed Skating Champion, and reigning world champion and world-record holder in the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and the 4,000-meter team-pursuit event. Kramer had already won the gold medal in the 5000-meter event.
This is big in Holland. The Dutch claim their children learn to walk and skate at the same time. Speed skating, especially long track, is the Dutch national pastime as well as the national sport. (Think baseball, basketball and football rolled into one for Americans.) Kramer's star-crossed 10,000-meter race was seen by 5,168,000 viewers in the Netherlands, which has a population of 16,443,269, meaning 31% of the country was viewing. (By comparison, the recent Super Bowl was seen by over 106 million people, 35% of the U.S. population, making it the most watched program in American. TV history -- but half of those were watching for the commercials.)
How big is Kramer, the son of a Dutch Olympic speed skater, in Holland? In 2007 Kramer dated Dutch supermodel Doutzen Kroes, who is currently one of the Victoria's Secret Angels.
How big does Kramer think that he is? As noted by the Fourth-Place Medal blog, Olympic reporters planning to interview a gold medalist should make sure they know which gold medalist they're talking to. A young female TV reporter learned that lesson the hard way last weekend. She began her interview by asking gold medalist Kramer, "I need you to say your name and your country and what you just won here." To which Kramer responded, "Are you stupid?" The reporter continued, "For tape identification purposes." To which Kramer exclaimed, "Hell no! I'm not gonna do that!"
About the reporter’s questions. They were asked to make sure the recording was properly identified, that is, to prevent a stupid mistake from happening; something Kramer may be becoming very familiar with these days.
Here's what happened in the 10,000-meter speed skating final. Kramer completed the grueling 6.21-mile circuit in what he thought was an Olympic record and gold-medal winning time. But he was wrong. He had made a mistake but even the broadcast commentators did not realize it when it happened, saying that what they saw, his skate hitting a lane-dividing cone, was not a disqualifying error. But what Kramer actually had done -- when his coach told him to -- was change from the outer lane to the inner lane of the rink -- but on the wrong lap.
Here's how Kramer explained it after the race. "I wanted to go on the outer lane, then just before the cone, Gerard (his coach Gerard Kemkers) shouted, 'Inner lane!' I thought he was probably right,” said Kramer. "I should have gone with my own thoughts but I was brought into doubt. This really sucks. This is a real expensive mistake. This really sucks,'' Kramer concluded.
Before the 10,000 meter race, journalist Jerry Brewer said, "With a legitimate shot at three gold medals, Kramer . . . could be the face of these Games." Although his reasoning may have been flawed, Brewer now looks like a prophet.
In 1968, Gary D. Gaddy, in an 880-yard track event, was knocked to the ground by a competitor, but got up and finished fourth anyway -- but was disqualified just after the race for, supposedly, cutting off the runner who knocked him down.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday February 26, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy