NPR logo

'Historic Mistake' Costs Dutch Skater Olympic Gold

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Historic Mistake' Costs Dutch Skater Olympic Gold

'Historic Mistake' Costs Dutch Skater Olympic Gold

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


More turmoil for the Netherlands. This time, it has to do with the national sport of speed skating. The controversy follows a huge, inexplicable mistake last night at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The Dutch skating star Sven Kramer was well on his way to winning a sure gold medal in the men's 10,000-meter event, when his coach shouted at him to switch lanes. That was the mistake.

Kramer crossed the finish line in what would've been an Olympic record time, raised his arms in triumph. Then his coach had to tell him he'd been disqualified for an illegal lane change.

Jaap de Groot was there, watching in disbelief in Vancouver. He's chief sports editor for the Dutch newspaper The Telegraph.

And, Mr. De Groot, why don't you describe the reaction inside the oval last night. The stands were packed with Dutch fans in orange, watching.

Mr. JAAP DE GROOT (Chief Sports Editor, The Telegraph): Yeah, it was happening halfway in the race when it appeared that Sven Kramer was just heading for a second Olympic gold. The whole stadium was euphoric. Yeah, it was an unbelievable atmosphere. And when he made the mistake, I think only a couple of people realized it.

I think it took about one or two minutes until the rest of the crowd understood what was going on. And while he was skating, he felt that, you know, the noise went down and all of a sudden, he was skating as a champion, but in complete silent surroundings. And he told later that that aspect made him realize that something was wrong.

BLOCK: Now, you said he made the mistake, Sven Kramer. But, really, it was his coach, right? Gerard Kemkers - who told him change lanes, and that was the mistake.

Mr. DE GROOT: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. His coach had a complete blackout.

BLOCK: What happened? How did that happen?

Mr. DE GROOT: He just made a mistake. He thought he had to go to the inner lane instead of the outer lane. And then he panicked and pointed his finger to the inner lane, and shouted to Kramer to change his route.

BLOCK: This is really an unthinkable thing that happened there last night. And you could tell afterwards Sven Kramer was furious. He threw his skating glasses down on the ice. He pushed his coach away. What did he say after the race?

Mr. DE GROOT: Well, that was his first reaction. I must say that afterwards, he acted like a real great sportsman, because when official to press conference, he more or less neutralized his opinion about his coach. He said: OK, he made a mistake, that's clear, and I lost a gold because of that. And people make mistakes. And he, unfortunately, for me, he made a big one tonight.

BLOCK: What about coach Kemkers? What happens now? After the race, he said: My world collapsed; this is the worst moment of my career. Does he go into hiding now in the Netherlands?

Mr. DE GROOT: No. No. You know, on the contrary, Gerard Kemkers earlier today gave a press conference saying that he had a bad night, stood up this morning, and decided to close the chapter and just leave it behind and continue with his work. And I think he underestimates the reactions in Holland because the reactions were furious on the public. And I must say, I just spoke to Sven. He's very easy on this. And the only thing he wants to do now is getting - on Saturday with the team pursuit - another gold medal. And I think after Saturday things will become serious between him and his team and his coach.

BLOCK: Become serious - what do you mean?

Mr. DE GROOT: Yeah, well, I think this is not just a mistake. Sven Kramer has, for years, been focused on getting at least three gold medals at this Olympics. Now, he's going to get a maximum of two. I think this will be continued after the games.

BLOCK: And you think the coach will be gone, basically.

Mr. DE GROOT: Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised. I think it's - this is a historic mistake. I think in Holland, over 50 years, we will still remember this mistake.

BLOCK: Jaap de Groot, thanks very much for talking with us about it.

Mr. DE GROOT: OK. It was a pleasure.

BLOCK: Jaap de Groot is chief sports editor for the Dutch newspaper The Telegraph. He spoke with us from Vancouver.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.