- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Michel and Ronald Mulder arrived in this world a day later than planned. Their mother, you see, was busy watching speedskating on TV.

Their mother, Leidy Mulder, was due to deliver the twins - who won gold and bronze Monday in the 500 meters at the Sochi Games - on Feb. 26, 1986. She pushed back their induced birth by a day so she could watch the famous Eleven Cities tour.

To some, that makes no sense. But for the Dutch, it makes all the sense in the world to put off whatever you’re doing - even giving birth - to watch a race that can only be skated when the ice grows thick enough along a route the covers more than 200 kilometers of frozen canals and lakes of the northern Netherlands.

“My mother said, ‘I’m not going. I am going tomorrow,” said Ronal Mulder, who won bronze Monday at the Adler Arena. His twin Michel took gold, edging fellow Dutchman Jan Smeekens, who won silver.

Leidy’s attitude defines a love of speedskating in the Netherlands that, combined with the country’s relative wealth, explains how such a small nation can come to dominate an entire sport. The Dutch have captured seven of nine medals so far on the big oval in Sochi, including a clean sweep of all three golds.

Five years before Ireen Wust won the third of her Olympic titles this week, she already had a state-of-the-art indoor oval named for her near her home town.

It is one of 17 dotted around the nation of 17 million, and the Dutch have at least two more planned. By comparison, the United States - with a population of 315 million - has only two.

“We grew up with ice skating. Every little kid is doing it,” Michel said after winning gold over a distance that the Dutch had never won, let alone swept.

After three days of competition, the Mulders’ medals briefly put the Dutch atop the overall Olympic standings in Sochi, showing what can happen when dozens of top skaters compete against one another before even getting to the Olympics.

Qualifying for the Dutch team can be as tough as winning an Olympic medal.

“I was really nervous when I had to qualify,” said Michel Mulder. “(If) I am not skating well at the trials, I am not even here, I cannot even skate the Olympics. That is the level of our country.”

Despite dominating long distance events, Dutch skaters have not historically experienced the same level of success in sprints as skaters from American and east Asian nations. Gerard van Velde, who won the 1,000-meter title at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, has been working hard to change that as a national team coach.

“At a certain point, we created this system that produced a lot of sprinters, too,” Van Velde said. “You see a new culture being created.”

“So now, to see three sprinters at an Olympics dominate the podium, that is a milestone,” he said.

The competition worries that’s exactly what they will do.

“Right now,” said Japanese sprinter Keiichiro Nagashima, “they are a step ahead of everyone.”


Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/rcasert

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