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Sondral Keeps the 1,500 Gold in Norway
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 13, 1998; Page C7

NAGANO, Feb. 12 — For the first time in his life, Norway's Aadne Sondral was good enough. There was no room for improvement, no expectation unmet. No matter how Sondral viewed his day's work at the M-Wave, whether he studied his time or technique or place in the standings, today he was the very best.

Sondral not only won his first Olympic gold medal in speedskating, but he also set a world record in the 1,500 meters (1 minute 47.87 seconds) as he edged the Netherlands' Ids Postma by 0.26 seconds. Dutchman Rintje Ritsma finished third.

Sondral's time shaved 1.01 seconds off the world mark. It became the second world record set in speedskating here this week.

"I'm extremely happy," he said. "I've been a big talent and a big loser. I've been Donald Duck, and I've been one who always comes in second. ... I've been almost everything in skating."

The comparison to Donald Duck might be a reach, but Sondral did finish in what he considered to be a disappointing fourth place in the 1994 Winter Olympics in the 1,500 meters.

In the 1992 Games, he finished second. In both races, Norway skating legend Johann Olav Koss won (setting a world record in 1994).

Since he was in his mid-teens, Sondral said, he was labled "Norway's next great skater," the apparent heir to Koss's throne. Yet, in nine years on the national team, he achieved various medals but not greatness.

"I've been dreaming of this medal," he said, "as long as I can remember."

Today's performance capped an afternoon in which the Olympic record was broken nine times, including by American KC Boutiette, who finished fifth. Boutiette was considered the U.S. team's best medal hope. Though his time put him in first place temporarily, it didn't hold up because of a poor start.

"I just got off bad," he said. "I was trying so hard to get back. I was making mistakes I don't usually make."

Boutiette didn't consider his finish a letdown for himself or anyone else. He took up speedskating barely over four years ago after a career as an inline skater.

"Five years ago, if you had asked me what I'd be doing today, I would probably have said digging ditches," Boutiette said. "I'm at the Olympics; there is nothing disappointing about that."

Being there was nothing new to Sondral, 26, who moved from Hol, Norway, to Oslo as a teenager to devote his time to training.

His pairing with Postma provided the most exciting matchup of the day. They raced 22nd of 23 pairs. In the previous race, the Netherlands's Jan Bos had taken the lead and began crying with joy, apparently believing he had made amends for a poor performance in the 500 earlier this week.

Bos, however, saw his apparent medal disappear in the next two races.

Sondral trailed Postma after the first 700 meters, but they were even at the 1,100-meter mark, each recording a time of 1:19.08. Postma, however, stumbled inexplicably on the final curve. By the time he regained his footing, he had no chance of catching up.

Perhaps it was fitting that, after today's race, Sondral received a congratulations and embrace from Koss, who is here as a television commentator. But despite his sudden ascension into the spotlight and record books, Sondral tried to keep his head.

"When I was younger, I thought when my race was good, I was king," he said. "When my race was bad, I was big loser. Somebody told me, 'If I am not man enough without the medal, I will never be man enough with it.' I am the same guy I was an hour ago. The only difference is that I skate some fast laps."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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