Romme Wins 5,000 Gold in Record Time
By Doug Ferguson
Sunday, February 8, 1998; 5:16 a.m. EST
In the final race Sunday, Romme broke the mark by a staggering six seconds to win the gold medal in an impressive showing by the Dutch and the new clapskates.
Ritje Ritsma, also of the Netherlands, got the silver, and Bart Veldkamp, a former Dutchman now skating for Belgium, won the bronze.
In all, 8½ seconds were cut off Romme's record in the Olympic race.
He finished in 6 minutes, 22.20 seconds, standing upright as he crossed the line. He whipped off his hood and thrust his arms into the air as he passed the singing, swaying Dutch fans clad in orange.
"At least I can say I had a world record for a little while,'' Veldkamp said. "It was a great performance. Six seconds faster was unbelieveable.''
KC Boutiette of Tacoma, Wash., was the top U.S. finisher at 14th. David Tamburrino of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., was 16th.
Boutiette set the American record with a 6:39.67, breaking the mark of 6:40.95 he had set Dec. 7. That was at the same World Cup event in the Netherlands where Romme set the world record in 6:30.63.
"We can still go three or four seconds faster, at least on the clap skates,'' Romme had said after setting the record then.
He proved to be more than right.
Veldkamp, who left the Netherlands because of its stringent training schedule, took more than two seconds off the world record with his time of 6:28.31.
That stood about as long as it took the Zamboni to smooth the ice for the final four pairings. Ritsma, the all-around world champion who has won just about everything but an Olympic gold, was on pace to break the mark from the opening lap. Gasping and straining down the frontstretch, he clipped a mere seven-hundredths of a second off Veldkamp's time.
Romme made it look even easier.
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.
He won his heat by nearly half of a lap over Norway's Kjell Storelid, the silver medalist in the 5,000 in 1994.
It was a sensational start to what the Dutch hope will be redemption from a lackluster performance at the 1994 games in Lillehammer, when they failed to win a gold medal in speedskating for only the second time since 1964.
Another Dutchman, Bob DeJong, finished fourth, and he, Ritsma and Romme walked to the edge of the oval after the race to salute their fans.
Veldkamp and the rest of the Dutch wore a new skating suit, which featured two pieces of wavy fabric down the front of each leg to help with the air flow.
Then there's the clap skates. They have a hinge and spring near the toe that allows the blade to stay on the ice a fraction of a second longer before it claps back into place.
How big a difference do they made? Romme's time was more than 12 seconds better than the world record set by Johann Olav Koss of Norway in Lillehammer.
Koss and Dan Jansen, who are both working as television commentators at the Nagano games, said they expected as many as six world records to fall over the next two weeks because of the new clap skates.
The first speedskating event of these games certainly bore that out.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
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