After Kramer's Blunder, Only Gold Counts in Sochi - NBC 7 San Diego
Winter Olympics Sochi 2014

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After Kramer's Blunder, Only Gold Counts in Sochi

With the same coach still at his side, the dominating Dutchman plans to show in Sochi he can bounce back from the darkest moment of his career.

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    After Kramer's Blunder, Only Gold Counts in Sochi
    Gold medallist Sven Kramer of The Netherlands reacts after winning the men's 5,000 meter speed skating race at the Richmond Olympic Oval at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010.

    It was the blunder of the Vancouver Games.

    With Sven Kramer closing in on the 10,000-meter speedskating title, his coach sent him into the wrong lane on a changeover. Gone was the chance for triple gold and the opportunity to become one of the top stars of the Olympics.

    With the same coach still at his side, the dominating Dutchman plans to show in Sochi he can bounce back from the darkest moment of his career.

    "He will only get over it if he gets gold in the 10K in Sochi," Geert Kuiper, a trainer of Kramer at the TVM commercial team, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "If he does not win there, it will only rub more salt into the wound."

    Not that Kramer has any choice. He is already established as one of the greatest skaters of his generation and one of the greatest of all time with six world and six European all-around titles.

    But there is another title he is after.

    "It is beyond question that I have to win," Kramer told NOS Dutch network during a pre-Sochi training camp. "That is also the reason why I am into sports."

    And at 27, his time finally should be coming.

    Like four years ago, nearly 17 million people in the skating-mad Netherlands think likewise, counting on gold in the 5,000, 10,000 and team pursuit.

    Even if Ireen Wust looks mighty strong for the women's races, little compares to the attraction the nation feels for Kramer.

    The Olympic oval, though, is about the only place where he has let his fans down.

    He was the most promising Olympic rookie at 2006 Turin Games, with confidence to match his powerful build and giant strides. His first gold seemed assured in the team pursuit. Yet, Kramer made an error by clipping a marker to bring down the whole team. He left Italy only with silver, bronze — and heartache.

    "He only had his nose at the door in Turin," Kuiper said. "In Vancouver, he could have won it all."

    He started well enough, breezing to the 5,000 gold. Then came the lane changeover which would define his Olympic career. He was a few laps removed from gold in the 10,000 when coach Gerard Kemkers inexplicably sent him into the wrong lane and, confused, Kramer followed his advice.

    In that second, with that elementary error which defies belief, he became known for failure as much as success.

    It has only made him more dogged in the pursuit of Olympic gold. After Vancouver, an injury in his upper right leg forced him to sit out a year and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

    He regrouped and became pickier in selecting when and where to race. An all-around title forces a skater to be prolific from 500 to 10,000 meters, and in today's world with ever more international competition, that becomes tougher and tougher — even for Kramer.

    So when he had to prepare for Sochi, he decided to sit out the European championships in early-January, even though he could have become the sole record holder with seven golds overall.

    Instead of going through four tough races over two days so close to the games, he went to Tenerife, off the north African coast, preferring warm-weather training to sub-zero Hamar in Norway.

    "He has learned to pick his moments better. There is no more pressure to win everything," Kuiper said.

    And on top of that, competition gets tougher, especially from Dutch teammate Jorrit Bergsma, another long-distance specialist.

    There might be some pressure for bragging rights at home, too. As things stand, Kramer's girlfriend Naomi van As has two Olympic gold medals as a player on the Dutch field hockey team from the 2008 Beijing Games and 2012 London Games.

    Van As also was in the stands four years ago when she saw Kramer hesitate on the changeover before following Kemkers' advice to take the wrong lane.

    "He has given it a place in his life," Kuiper said, "but the scar remains."