RICHMOND, British Columbia — Lee Seung-hoon of South Korea won a stunning gold medal in men’s 10,000-meter speedskating Tuesday when overwhelming favorite Sven Kramer made an amateurish mistake, failing to switch lanes just past the midway point of the race, and was disqualified.
Kramer finished about 4 seconds ahead of Lee, but it didn’t matter. The South Korean already was celebrating on the infield while the Dutch world-record holder was finishing his race, apparently unaware of what he had done.
When Kramer came across the line, he threw up his arms to celebrate what he thought was his second gold medal of the Vancouver Games. Then, as he was coasting along on the backstretch, the victory celebration suddenly ended.
Dutch coach Gerard Kemkers told the skater what he had done. Kramer reacted with disbelief, then slung away his glasses in disgust.
“It is pretty hard now,” Kramer said. “I was on my way to make the right decision and right before the corner I changed my decision because of the advice from the (coach). At the end of the day, it is my responsibility. I am the skater on the ice, I have to do it.”
Lee won with an Olympic-record time of 12 minutes, 58.55 seconds, breaking the mark of 12:58.92 set by Jochem Uytdehaage of the Netherlands at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
The silver went Ivan Skobrev of Russia (13:02.07), while defending Olympic champion Bob de Jong ended up with an unexpected bronze (13:06.73).
But this will always be known as the race that one of the surest bests in these games let get away, because he failed to abide by the most basic of rules.
In long track speedskating, the competitors switch lanes each time they go down the backstretch to even up the distance they cover. On the 17th of 25 laps, Kramer messed up.
The Dutchman had already won the 5,000 in dominating fashion, setting an Olympic record, and seemed a lock to become the fourth athlete from his speedskating-mad nation to sweep the two longest events on the men’s program.
Instead, the gold went to Lee, who had won silver in the 5,000.
“I expected to be on the podium but not for the gold,” Lee said. “I could not have realized that this would have happened. I trained and prepared long for this. Sven Kramer is a great skater.”
While the three medalists celebrated, Kramer sat alone on a bench along the front straightaway, trying to figure out what went wrong.