Mark Tuitert’s victory in Vancouver: the biggest of his career

Four years earlier in Turin, the Netherlands’ speed skaters had finshed the team pursuit with bronze, a decent result in itself but not the one they had hoped for. In the semi-final the Dutch were leading Italy comfortably when one of their skaters fell and took a team-mate out with him. The final place that had seemed theirs for the taking suddenly slipped away.

Mark Tuitert had been a part of that team and was again in its ranks in Vancouver. He was also entered for the individual 1,500m, where he would have the chance to challenge for gold on his own.

His record suggested that might be difficult, though. Tuitert’s best years seemed to be behind him, with his two World Cup victories having come five years earlier and his sole European championship win back in 2004. Since then, he had struggled to make his mark at the top level, and when conversation turned to the contenders at Vancouver he received barely a mention.

Instead, most people were anticipating a victory for the USA’s Shani Davis, who had already won the 1,000m title. The American had won silver four years earlier and had kicked on since then, going on to take the world title in both 2007 and 2009 as well as the World Cup title in 2008 and 2009. He also broke his own 1,500m world record shortly before arriving in Vancouver, and seemed destined to add the Olympic title to his list of successes.

Russia’s Ivan Skobrev was the first skater to throw down the gauntlet to Davis, crossing the line in 1:46.42 seconds, though it was the following pair of skaters who would change the course of the competition.

Tuitert was paired against Håvard Bøkko, who had been Davis’ closest challenger in a string of World Cup races. The two men pushed each other hard and quickly dipped under Skobrev’s pace, though it was Tuitert who was setting the faster splits en route to clocking a time of 1:45.57 seconds, quicker than anyone else. Bøkko was just over half a second adrift, having made up time with a fast finish.

Davis raced in the final pair, but despite the crowd’s expectations of a gold-medal winning performance, he was never really in contention. After 300m he was already 0.18 seconds off Tuitert’s pace, a gap that had increased to a third of a second at the 1,100m mark. By the finish, the American had crept ahead 0.03 seconds of Bøkko but was more than half a second behind the Dutchman.

Tuitert’s victory in Vancouver was the biggest of his career, and he capped a successful Games by helping the Dutch team to another bronze in the pursuit a week later.