- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Exhausted, Stefan Groothuis sat on an infield bench and started choking up as he saw one challenger after another falter.

The freak injuries, illnesses, depression, the thoughts of suicide - a catalog of bad luck was about to turn into Olympic gold with one powerful 1,000 meter race few expected the Dutchman still had in him at 32.

“I almost started to cry, thinking: this is not happening,” he said.

Going early with most of the medal contenders still to come, Groothuis set an Adler Arena track record of 1 minute 8.39 seconds and then had to sit and wait for four more pairs to race.

Canadian Denny Morrison of Canada scared him big time when he came within .04 seconds.

Double defending champion Shani Davis was still to come.

The American, one year younger than Groothuis, couldn’t summon the Dutchman’s power and kick and faded into eighth place.

Groothuis released a massive “Yes!!!!” when the final challenger, Denis Kuzin, failed to beat his time. He grabbed Jac Orie, the coach who kept faith in him when so many others had given up, in a bear hug that almost broke Orie’s glasses.

Morrison took silver and 500 champion Michel Mulder added bronze to make it another outstanding Dutch party at the Olympic oval.

In the summer of 2011 Groothuis fought depression and even contemplated suicide while his wife Ester was pregnant with their first child. “I was pretty close. And that is pretty shocking to say,” he told Dutch national broadcaster NOS last year.

Now the couple was kissing beside the ice, Groothuis with the Dutch flag draped over his shoulders as they celebrated the fourth gold medal in five speedskating events for the Dutch.

“She went through enough bad times,” he said. “I am so thankful that she has been there for me all this time.”

If Groothuis came up with a comeback of a lifetime, Davis shocked with a defeat no one had expected.

He was poised to become the first male speedskater to capture the same event at three consecutive Olympics. He ended up with no medal of any color. It was a stunning loss for one of the greatest speedskaters ever.

“I have to live with this for the rest of my life,” Davis said. “I just had a misfortunate race.”

While Davis became the latest U.S. star who failed to deliver in Sochi, following Bode Miller in the Alpine downhill and Shaun White in the halfpipe, the Dutch continue to excel.

The Netherlands team now has 10 out of a possible 15 speedskating medals - a dominating performance that sets them up to crush the record for most speedskating medals by a country at a single Olympics. East Germany captured 13 at the 1988 Calgary Games. There are seven events left at the Adler Arena.

Canada’s Denny Morrison took the silver in 1:08.43. He wasn’t even scheduled to compete in the event, but got in when teammate Gilmore Junio gave up his spot. Morrison - a much-higher rated skater - fell during their country’s qualifying trials and wound up an alternate in the 1,000.

“It makes it so much more special,” Morrison said.

Morrison, Davis and Groothuis all go in Saturday’s 1,500 too. For Davis, it is a shot at redemption in another of the races he calls “my babies.” He won silver in the 1,500 at the last two Olympics and would love nothing more than to make it a gold after his performance Wednesday.

“Now I have to figure out how to prepare myself the best I can for that 1,500 race,” he said. “Since one door closed, hopefully another one opens and I’m able to step in there.”

Groothuis knows that feeling.

Beyond his depression, he has had plenty of misery to deal with.

In 2007, he sliced through half his left Achilles tendon with his skate and was out for over a year. He got sick shortly before the Vancouver Games and finished just outside the medals.

Last season, a viral infection cost him part of the season too. And in his first race in Sochi, he stumbled onto the ice almost straight after the starting shot.

He seemed doomed for failure, until his golden race Wednesday.


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

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