By Sakura Murakami
BEIJING (Reuters) -Norway beat the Russian Olympic Committee in the men’s speed skating team pursuit final at the Beijing Olympics on Tuesday, becoming the first country to win two gold medals in the event.
The defending champions whizzed around the National Speed Skating Oval in perfect unison, steadily widening the gap on the Russian team to finish in three minutes and 38.08 seconds.
“Of course, it’s special to do it again. It’s with another team (now), but of course it’s really cool. We showed that our team is the best in the world, it’s amazing,” said Sverre Lunde Pedersen, who was also a member of the 2018 gold medal-winning team.
Men’s 5,000m bronze medallist Hallgeir Engebraaten said it was an amazing feeling to help his country secure a gold medal.
“To be able to skate as fast as we did and then to win, is a team effort. It means everything,” Engebraaten said.
“Sverre (Pedersen) is the only one that skated at the last Olympics. It (winning again) shows that as a team we are able to skate very good,” he added.
The gold medal also marked a return to top form for Pedersen who broke his hand in a cycling fall last year and missed World Cup events due to the injury.
“I cannot compare it, these two gold medals are both special. But this medal, after the accident in May, is amazing,” the 29-year-old said.
The Norwegians roared with delight and thumped one another on the backs when they looked up after crossing the finish line and saw they had achieved a feat no team had previously managed.
The ROC struggled to keep up despite setting an Olympic record in the semis, finishing over two seconds behind in 3:40.46 to take the silver, but the team was still pleased with their first medal in the event.
“One week ago, if someone had asked me if we would be on the podium, I was not thinking (it would happen). We were not super strong,” said Russian Ruslan Zakharov.
“We are strong, we always fought for this (result). I promise you, in 2026 we will win this,” he added.
The United States, world record holders in the event, won the bronze medal, ahead of a Dutch team including individual silver medallist Patrick Roest and speed skating great Sven Kramer.
American Joey Mantia said they were slightly disappointed to miss out on gold after setting the world record two months ago.
“The ways these guys skate in the semis, it’s like an Olympic record,” the 36-year-old said of the Russians.
“How unlucky do you have to be that (the Russians) go four seconds faster in the semi-finals? Like, (it’s) the race of their lives. You can’t really be sad about that, it’s just unlucky,” he added.
Still, he appeared happy to win his first medal at his third Olympics.
“I feel like now I can just breathe. I can walk away and say, ‘OK, we three are Olympic medallists’,” Mantia said.
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami, editing by Ed Osmond)