SOCHI, Russia — Sven Kramer is searching for the peace of mind that has often eluded him at the Winter Olympics.
The Dutch speedskater believes winning three gold medals in Sochi would redeem the blunders that cost him more titles in Turin and Vancouver.
Kramer opens the defense of his lone Olympic title when speedskating begins with the 5,000 meters on Saturday at Adler Arena. A victory will be extra special because the winner receives the 100th gold medal in men's speedskating at the Olympics.
"There is a little more pressure at these Olympics," Kramer said.
Here are five things to watch for in the men's 5,000:
- Kramer's demons: Kramer will be looking to vanquish the bad memories from his first two Olympics.
As a teenager in Turin in 2006, Kramer had a chance to help the Dutch win the team pursuit, but he clipped a lane marker and crashed out.
That slip pales in comparison to his mistake in the 10,000 four years ago in Vancouver. Kramer all but had the race won when his coach Gerard Kemkers inexplicably pointed him toward the wrong lane on a crossover. Kramer followed the path to a disqualification.
Making things worse, bad teamwork in the pursuit race cost the Dutch gold.
"So, all in all, he threw away three gold medals," former teammate and commentator Erben Wennemars said. "If you want to become bigger than the sport, you have to win those."
- Dutch threat: The world's most dominant speedskating nation will be seeking a sweep in the 5,000.
Besides Kramer, Jorrit Bergsma and Jan Blokhuijsen are strong medal contenders.
"Sven is always there to win," Kemkers said. "He's never there for the experience. He's so hungry."
A victory by any of the Dutch trio would put the Netherlands within one gold medal of tying the United States' record total of 29 speedskating golds at the Winter Games. If the Dutch overtake the Americans in Sochi, speedskating would be the first sport in which the Dutch lead the gold medal standings.
- Luck of the draw: Kramer will skate in the 10th of 13 pairings, right after the ice is resurfaced. His two biggest challengers, countryman Bergsma and Lee Seung-hoon of South Korea, skate after Kramer, giving them a bit of an advantage. They'll know how fast they have to go to beat Kramer's time. Blokhuijsen skates in the next-to-last pair, just ahead of Lee, the silver medalist four years ago in Vancouver.
The Russians open their bid for Olympic gold on home ice, with Ivan Skobrev (the 2010 bronze medalist who turns 31 on Saturday), Denis Yuskov and Aleksandr Rumyantsev competing.
- Break out the brass: Fans at Adler Arena can expect to hear the Dutch brass band that has become a staple at Olympic speedskating ovals.
The Kleintje Pils band strikes up the music during ice resurfacing breaks, getting the crowd dancing along to its popular renditions of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" and Queen's "We Are the Champions." The orange-clad band is an unmistakable sight as it makes its way around the stands.
Band leader Ruud Bakker had said before the Olympics that Kleintje Pils was considering adding the popular gay anthem "Y.M.C.A" to its sing-along repertoire to show its support for gay rights. Russia has a law that bans pro-gay "propaganda" that could be accessible to minors, which has been sharply rebuked by numerous Western countries.
- American hopes: The 5,000 isn't considered a potential medal event for the U.S. Jonathan Kuck, Patrick Meek and 17-year-old high school student Emery Lehman will compete.