Kjeld Nuis (NED) finally took his long-awaited Olympic gold. The 28-year-old world champion won the 1500m in 1:44.01 at the Gangneung Olympic Oval on Tuesday. His team-mate Patrick Roest (NED) grabbed silver in 1:44.86, and the Korean home crowd loudly cheered for Min Seok Kim (KOR), who ran away with the bronze in 1:44.93.
Nuis, who failed to qualify for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, was the happiest man on earth: “I can't even describe the feeling, it's really weird. I have to calm down just a little. I'm OK, I'm really, really happy.”
With the compliments of Shani Davis
The fresh Olympic champion was honored to hear that Shani Davis (USA) had complimented him on his race: “Another reporter told me that Davis said that he admired my race. He said that he thought it was a pity I hadn’t qualified for the Olympic Games before, because if I had, I would have had more medals. That may be the case but well, it means a lot to me that a guy like him says that. I’ve always admired him a lot.”
Davis himself did not have the speed in Tuesday’s 1500m. The former 1500m world champion and two times Olympic 1000m champion finished in 1:46.74 for 19th place.
"The ice was superfast, unfortunately I wasn't,” Davis said. “After the Olympics have gone I will sit back and go through everything in my mind, but I'm just happy to be here. The Olympics is a beautiful thing. It's a beautiful rink, the ice is superfast. I feel good. It's just getting it together for the 1000m now.”
Early speed from Roest
Patrick Roest led the field halfway through the 18 pairs at the ice-cleaning break. Nuis’ younger team-mate was the only one before the break to skate two sub-27-second laps to finish with 28.01 in a total time of 1:44.86.
Many skaters challenged Roest’s time opening faster than the 22-year-old Dutchman, but none were able to match his second sub-27 lap and they all came short in the final lap. Mathias Voste had the fastest first 700m before the ice cleaning break after opening 23.58 and skating 25.88 in the first lap, but the Belgian former inline and short-track skater was not able keep going in the second part of the race and eventually finished in 1:47.34. To the delight of the home-crowd he even had to bow his head for Korean pair-mate Hyong-Jun Joo, who clocked 1:46.65. Voste eventually ended up 23rd and Joo 17th.
After the break again one skater after another bit in the dust chasing Roest’s time. Defending Olympic Champion Zbigniew Brodka ended up twelfth in 1:46.31, and Sochi bronze medalist Denny Morrison (CAN) clocked 1:46.36 for twelfth place.
In the fourteenth pair Nuis managed to follow-up a blistering 23.22 opening with a first 25.06 lap.
“That was crazy”, he said. “I had not planned to skate the first full lap that fast. I wanted to start fast. The speed has come easy lately and I thought, just start out fast, so that the rest will not be able to match. All the important pairs came after me. Maybe I bluffed them a little.”
He surely bluffed his coach Jac Orie (NED). “That 25.06 in the first lap worried me a bit. I thought that it might have been a little too much of a good thing. He never skated a first full lap like that in a 1500m race before. But he just goes for it. He accelerated so easily on the cross-over. I was anxioiusly looking at the 1100m split. I thought: ‘That should be a sub-27 lap’, and he nails it, 26, bang!”
Nuis went into the last lap with a two-second advantage over Roest and he had to concede more than a second with 29.12, but finished well ahead of his team mate. “That final lap was super tough. In the last corner my only thought was: ‘Stay on your feet, don’t crash’,” Nuis said.
Immediately after Nuis had finished the home crowd went wild for Kim. The 19-year-old 2016 World Junior Champion sailed on the waves of enthusiasm and was the only one, apart from Nuis and Roest, who managed to finish under 1:45 with 1:44.93. "I didn't think I would get the medal, but I'm pretty happy that I was able to. It's the biggest honor as an athlete to win an Olympic medal,” he said. "I feel proud to perform in my home country. The home crowd also gave me a lot of boost and support throughout the race. I had a sort of dissatisfaction in my performance, but with the home crowd cheering me on I was able to do my best."
Nuis, Roest and Kim anxiously watched the final three pairings. Norway’s Sindre Henriksen (7th in 1:45.64) and Sverre Lunde Pedersen (9th in 1:45.86), and American Joey Mantia (8th in 1:45.86) were not able to shake the top three.