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Dutch speedskating now biggest medal machine in Winter Olympic history

The Dutch speedskaters swept the podium and now have compiled an unearthly 19 medals in speedskating alone. And they're not done yet. It's a historic achievement.

By Staff writer / February 18, 2014

Mark Tuitert of the Netherlands greets fans as Dutch band Kleintje Pils plays during the men's 1,500-meter speedskating race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday.

Patrick Semansky/AP

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Sochi, Russia

The 2014 Dutch Olympic speedskating team is now officially, completely, mind-blowingly nuts.

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On Tuesday, the Netherlands did what the Netherlands does: They swept the medals in a speedskating event, this time the 10,000 meters. Jorrit Bergsma led the way, finishing one hour and 20 minutes ahead of the field. OK, maybe not that much. But it felt that way. 

In setting an Olympic record, Bergsma was close to lapping the other man in his pairing, which, according to the peculiar rules of Sochi 2014, would have resulted in the humiliated speedskater being forced to wear the Under Armor "Mach 39" suit while being chased by a shirtless Vladimir Putin.

Bear in mind that this poor bloke, Bart Swings of Belgium, finished fifth. In other words, a full 15 seconds (and five places) in front of the best American.

It is, in fact, difficult to characterize the enormity of what the Dutch have accomplished in Sochi. Imagine sending an Olympic team full of Eric Heidens, and you're starting to get close.

In all, the Netherlands has now won 19 speedskating medals and 20 total. The only non-speedskating medal came from ... speedskating (a bronze in the short track variety). For the long-trackers, 19 medals from a single sport in a single Games sets a new record. The previous record was 14, set by the Austrian alpine skiing team at Turin 2006. The previous record for speedskaters was 13, set by the East Germans at Calgary in 1988.

Just in case you drifted off during all that math, let me remind you that the Dutch have won 19 medals. And there are three races remaining. By Saturday night, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will have required all journalists to start using capslock, as in: SWEET MOTHER OF JORRIT BERGSMA, THE DUTCH HAVE 22 SPEEDSKATING MEDALS!!!!

For the record, as of the conclusion of the 10,000 meters Tuesday, no nation had more medals than the Dutch speedskaters (who were tied with the entire countries of Russia and the US). The Dutch have swept the podium four times in nine races. Only the women's 5,000 meters and the men's and women's team pursuit remain.

The good news is that the Dutch seem a lock for three more medals – Irene Wust in the 5,000 and, of course, the two team events. The bad news is that they can't enter more than one team, which will drive down their medal rate terribly. Right now, they're averaging 2.1 medals per event.

All this might beg the question: Why are the Dutch so good at speedskating? The answer, shocking though it may seem, is that they like speedskating a lot.

The most overused chestnut in American Winter Olympics journalism is to compare anything to American football. In Germany, luge is as popular as football in America! Generally, it's not true. It's just a way of saying that virtually every winter sport except snowboarding is more popular somewhere else. But in the case of the Dutch and speedskating, it approaches accuracy.

In truth, speedskating in the Netherlands is perhaps a bit more like baseball in America. It speaks to something deep in the Netherlands' sense of itself. The IOC's summary of the sport calls the Dutch "early pioneers," who organized a round trip from town to town on frozen lakes in 1676.

This idea eventually gave rise to the Elfstedentocht – the 11 cities tour – a 120-mile race held in the northern province of Friesland whenever conditions permit. The race has been held only three times since 1963, with the most recent in 1997, but it remains one of the most cherished cultural events in the Netherlands. [Editor's note: The original misspelled Elfstedentocht.]

When it looked like there might be an Elfstedentocht in 2012, the prime minister said: "Once every 15 years our country is not governed from The Hague but by 22 district heads in Friesland. And our country is in good hands."

Once every four years, the best place to be at the Winter Olympics is at the speedskating oval, and it is in good hands. Even before this year, Dutch orange has run riot over Olympic ovals. This year, the king and queen came to Sochi. The traveling Dutch oom-pah band, Kleintje Pils, has become such a mainstay of Olympic ovals that the Russians were reportedly willing to pay them to come for the entire speedskating program in Sochi.

Band leader Ruud Bakker, who works in real estate, declined. "We don't want someone saying what we do," he told Yahoo Sports.

But they got here Friday, and the Dutch keep winning medals, and maybe, just maybe, it'll be the Dutch who annex the Adler Arena Skating Center when the Games are done.

After all, President Obama the Sochi Olympics can live without, apparently. But Kleintje Pils?

Even the Russians know world domination when they see it.

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