GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Dutchwoman Esmee Visser powered to gold in the women’s 5,000 meters speed skating as normal service resumed for the Netherlands at the Gangneung Oval on Friday.
Defending champion Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic claimed silver in the longest Olympic speed skating distance for women and Natalia Voronina took the bronze medal for the Olympic Athletes from Russia team.
The Dutch have now won six of the seven gold medals on offer in the speed skating events after missing out on gold in the men’s 10,000m on Wednesday.
Visser became the second-youngest athlete to win the event at the age of 22, behind only German veteran Claudia Pechstein, who finished eighth in the 12-strong field six days shy of her 46th birthday.
“It’s amazing,” Visser told reporters. “It was very surprising for me because I’ve never competed against these big women.”
The champion was a surprise inclusion in the Dutch squad and offered proof there is no foreseeable end in sight to the Netherlands’ domination of the sport.
“For this season my goal was to compete in my first world cup and I made that,” she added.
“It was a big achievement for me. For the longer term my goal was to get to the Olympics in Beijing in 2022 so I never thought about this.”
Racing in the first pair after the ice preparation break, Visser showed no signs of nerves and credited her coach with calming her down enough to allow her to put in a performance of consistent laps built on a foundation of solid technique.
“He kept me laughing and he said to me, ‘You can do it. You just have to show what you do in training. He pushed me to just do what I always do,” she said.
Her last lap was her slowest, but by then she had done enough to knock compatriot Annouk van der Weijden, who took to the ice in the first pair, off the top spot.
Visser had to wait for veterans Pechstein and Sablikova to finish racing, but neither could match the staying power of the Dutchwoman, who shaved more than six seconds off her previous best time to finish in 6 minutes, 50.23 seconds.
Sablikova, who won golds in the event in Vancouver and Sochi, was still troubled by the back injury that had prevented her from training fully until six weeks before she arrived in South Korea.
She was quicker than Visser over the first 2-1/2 laps, but failed to match the Dutchwoman’s smooth stride thereafter.
The Czech found a burst of speed on the last lap to get her toe ahead of Voronina for silver.
“I am very happy today,” she said. “I feel like I’m a winner because in November I had a really bad time. I couldn’t skate more than three laps.
“I thought I wouldn’t go to the Olympics. It was a very hard time but now it’s like satisfaction because I’m here with silver.”
Reporting by Simon Jennings, editing by Ed Osmond