RICHMOND, British Columbia (AP) — It took Sven Kramer barely six minutes to shake off four years of Olympic frustration.
The Dutch speedskater claimed the only major trophy that had eluded him — Olympic gold — with a games record in the 5,000 meters.
The 23-year-old pre-race favorite won in 6 minutes, 14.60, shaving six hundredths of a second off Jochem Uytdehaage's Olympic record set at altitude in Salt Lake City in 2002.
"I was dying in the end, so I think it was one of my hardest, and even my best race ever," Kramer said.
Only two years after switching from short track, Lee was the shock of the day with his silver.
"This is a dream and a surprise," he said.
After winning world and European titles, Kramer finally got the gold he had been waiting for since he finished with silver and bronze in Turin four years ago. There to see it were Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende and Crown Prince Willem Alexander.
"The pressure was so high in Holland," Kramer said.
With the 10,000 and the team pursuit to come, Kramer is now a hot favorite to leave Vancouver with three gold medals.
Kramer was the only one of the favorites to perform well. The first of the major challengers to skate, he set the bar and then settled in to wait out the final six skaters. When Skobrev and Enrico Fabris, tipped as his toughest challenger, were challenging his time early, Kramer literally was biting his nails with tension in the infield.
"It just goes to show he has the heart of a champion. He had to go out first, and he had a whole bunch of sharpshooters behind him," said Davis, who was paired with Kramer. "He went out there and did his thing. He didn't leave anything to question about who's better than him."
The Olympic oval was filled to its 7,600 capacity with Dutch fans and locals wearing the red Canadian colors, their cries and encouragement cascading off the spectacular wood beams covering the oval.
From early on, it is was clear it was going to be plodding ice because of the air density at sea level, and times never got close to world-record pace.
If there were any doubt about Kramer's resolve, he showed it entering the infield before the race. Walking up the stairs was not enough, he was jumping several steps at a time and looking straight ahead, totally disregarding the shoulder pats of support from track officials.
Only when he loosened up on the warmup lane did he happily wave to the fans in the stands, some standing over an orange "Go Sven Go" banner. If anything, it seemed a lap of honor before the starting gun.
Once he got going, it was all business. Over the first 200 meters he was 0.75 faster than anybody else, and early on he kept turning in laps about a second faster than every one else.
Kramer looked unbeatable for most of the race, showing some vulnerability over the last three laps when his lap times exceeded 30 seconds for the first time.
Over the last lap, with both hands wildly flailing to get the last energy out of his drained body, he looked exhausted and quickly needed the support of his coach, Gerard Kemkers, to stay upright once he crossed the line.
When it became clear that the final pair of Havard Bokko and Hedrick would not challenge him, Kramer shared high-fives with Kemkers and held up his arms in victory.
Thousands of orange-clad fans started shouting "Sven-Sven-Sven," and when Bokko crossed the line, four years of frustration were over for Kramer. He raced across the ice, jumped into the stands to embrace his parents and girlfriend Naomi van As, an Olympic field hockey gold medalist.
"I want to have more than her," Kramer said. "I have two weeks left."