- Associated Press - Thursday, February 20, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - The Dutch have dominated speedskating at the Sochi Olympics, and they’re out to finish off a record-setting performance by winning the country’s first gold medals in men’s and women’s team pursuit.

The event begins Friday with quarterfinal and semifinal rounds for the men. The top two teams in the semis advance to Saturday’s final. The losing semifinalists will skate for the bronze medal.

The women skate in the quarterfinals Friday, with their semis and final on Saturday.

The Dutch have won a record 21 medals at the big oval in these games.

Here are five things to watch for as men’s and women’s team pursuit gets underway at Adler Arena:

DUTCH MEN’S LINEUP: Sven Kramer, a two-time medalist in Sochi, leads off for the Dutch men in the quarterfinals, followed by 1,500 silver medalist Koen Verweij and 5,000 silver medalist Jan Blokhuijsen. Jorrit Bergsma, who upset Kramer for gold in the 10,000, will be the reserve skater. Kramer, Blokhuijsen and Verweij set the world record of 3 minutes, 35.60 seconds at a World Cup event in the high altitude of Utah last November. The Dutch won last year’s world championship and lead this season’s World Cup standings.

DUTCH WOMEN’S LINEUP: Two-time defending gold medalist Germany failed to qualify, ensuring a new champion will be crowned in the women’s event. Ireen Wust leads off for the Dutch, followed by Lotte van Beek and Jorien ter Mors. Marrit Leenstra is the reserve skater. Wust is seeking her fifth medal in Sochi, which would tie the record for most medals won by an individual in a single Winter Games. Wust could become the third person to win five medals at a Winter Games that were either all gold or silver if the Dutch finish in one of the top two spots on the podium. “In the past at times, we didn’t take the team pursuit seriously enough,” Wust said. “That can’t happen this time. We have to get it right.”

LAST CHANCE AMERICANS: The U.S. is down to its last chance to avoid a medals shutout for the first time since 1984. The men’s team of Shani Davis, Brian Hansen and Jonathan Kuck has a stronger chance to get on the podium than the women’s team of Heather Richardson, Brittany Bowe and Jilleanne Rookard. “We’re optimistic,” Davis said. “We’re going to work together and we’re going to try and get a medal on the board. We have zero, so yikes.”

DUTCH MISCUES: Since team pursuit was added to the Olympics at the 2006 Turin Games, the home country has always won the men’s event. The Italians took gold that year and host nation Canada won four years ago in Vancouver. The Dutch were heavily favored in 2006 when Kramer hit a lane marker and fell. In Vancouver, they were again favored but botched their tactics and left one of their skaters behind. A team’s time only counts when the last of its three skaters crosses the finish line.

OTHER CONTENDERS: On the men’s side, South Korea and Poland are medal favorites. Also contending are defending Olympic champion Canada, Russia, Norway, and the U.S., which took silver four years ago. On the women’s side, Canada and 2010 bronze medalist Poland are podium favorites. South Korea and Russia, led by 3,000 bronze medalist Olga Graf, are in the mix, too.



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