An Olympic speed skater has been praised for a split-second act of sportsmanship that helped his rival secure a medal.
Dutch speed skater Kai Verbij has been showered with praise following a split-second act of sportsmanship that helped a rival athlete secure an Olympic medal in Beijing on Friday.
Verbij was the reigning world champion in the speed skating men’s 1000m event, and was touted as a medal contender for Friday’s final at the National Speed Skating Oval.
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The 27-year-old was paired with Canada’s Laurent Dubreuil for the event, but heading into the penultimate corner of their final lap, Verbij backed off on the last crossover straight.
In speed skating, competitors are required to change lanes every lap, because the inner lane of the 400m oval covers a shorter distance. The Dutch athlete knew he didn‘t have enough speed to get in front of Dubreuil for the crossover, so he stuck to the rules and slowed down to avoid a collision.
Verbij dropped out of his racing crouch and slowed to stay clear of Dubreuil, who ultimately secured silver with a time of 1.08:32. Verbij finished in last place.
“I’m pretty sad I couldn’t set a proper time,” he said after the event.
“My first 600 metre was okay. Not great, not bad. Laurent was very quick and then you’re just not up there. I was in trouble.
“When I exited the inner lane I saw his higher top speed and knew: I have to get up, otherwise I would ruin his race and I’m not that kind of a*****e.
“I’m not angry. A little bit sad however that this had to happen right now. It’s a shame, but this is top sport. I was unlucky and it’s tough. I can be pathetic about it, but yeah … it happened and there’s nothing more I could do.
“It‘s not the first time it’s happened to me, but not at the Olympics, of course. It’s pretty sad. I’m pretty disappointed. But someone had to lose, I guess.”
Dubreuil was grateful for Verbij’s sacrifice after the race, saying it was “unfortunate for us to be tied with 250 to go”.
“It‘s tough to do that in an Olympic race,” he explained.
“I can‘t say thank you enough to him. It was a really professional and classy move to do. He’s a friend, so when he’s gets over it – I will give him some time – I will thank him for sure.
“I went faster than I‘ve ever gone in the 600. I was ahead of what I’ve been in my race plan.”
Netherlands speed skater Thomas Krol captured the gold with a blistering time of 1:07.93, while Norway’s Haavard Lorentzen won bronze.
“It‘s just really sad to see this happen because he’s my best friend,” Krol said. “He was on the course for a medal for sure. I was really cheering for him and hoping that he would be on the podium with me.
“I really feel sorry for him. My heart hurts.”
The Netherlands have now won five of the 12 speed skating events in Beijing.
Originally published as ‘Feel sorry for him’: World champion’s mid-race sacrifice in speed skating final