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Japanese speedskaters miss medal as Dutch beat all comers

Kyodo, AP

Japan missed out on a medal in women’s speedskating team pursuit on Saturday at the Sochi Olympics.

Japan, which won the silver medal four years ago at the Vancouver Games, was defeated by host Russia in the bronze-medal race, while the Netherlands won gold, its first medal in women’s pursuit. Poland took the silver.

Japan clocked 3 minutes, 2.57 seconds against Russia, which completed the race in 2:59.73.

The Dutch women, who set an Olympic record in the quarterfinals, bettered their time in the semis against Japan and again against the Poles, when they won the gold in 2 minutes, 58.05 seconds. The Netherlands, which has dominated most of the races at the Adler Arena Skating Center, crossed the finish line 7.50 seconds ahead of the Poles.

“We were outclassed individually and as a team and we lost,” said Nana Takagi, who skated in all three of Japan’s races.

“Compared to the World Cup, the frustration is completely different.”

Maki Tabata, the 39-year-old veteran holdover from Japan’s Vancouver squad, Misaki Oshigiri and Takagi skated against Russia. Tabata had skated in Friday’s quarterfinal victory over South Korea but was replaced by Ayaka Kikuchi in Japan’s semifinal thrashing at the hands of the Dutch.

“Not a single one of us was strong enough,” Tabata said. “It hit home how big the gap is between us and the best in the world.

“We have to get stronger so we can catch up.”

The Dutch also won the men’s pursuit, competed over eight laps instead of the six the women skate. Like their countrywomen, they won in an Olympic record time, defeating South Korea in 3:37.71 to win the gold medal. Poland beat Canada for the men’s bronze.

The two golds brought the Netherlands’ haul in Sochi to a staggering eight golds and 23 medals overall.

“We simply are the best team,” Jan Blokhuijsen said, “so it’s no surprise.”

Blokhuijsen, Sven Kramer and Koen Verweij raised their clasped hands in triumph after beating the Koreans, taking the country’s first gold ever in pursuit and making up for heavily favored teams that flopped in both 2006 and 2010.

The Netherlands turned in a performance that may never be duplicated, taking nearly twice as many medals at the oval as every other nation combined.

While former powerhouses such as Norway, Germany and the United States didn’t win even a single medal in Sochi, the team in orange turned this into essentially the Dutch trials.

The eight golds in 12 events broke the previous record of six golds by the Soviet speedskaters at the 1960 Winter Games. The total medals blew away the old mark of 13 by the East Germans at the 1988 Calgary Olympics.

The only consolation for everyone else in team pursuit: There was no way for the Dutch to hoard all the medals, as they did in four individual events.

South Korea seemed more than thrilled with its silver on the men’s side, with Poland rallying to beat Canada for the bronze.

“We knew that the Dutch would be champion, but we still had to fight for a result,” South Korea’s Lee Seung-hoon said.

The South Koreans actually led early in the race and were still just 0.38 seconds behind at the midway point. But the Dutch were simply too deep and too strong, steadily pulling away to win by a comfortable 3.14.