Dutch speed skater Sven Kramer made a push to the front of the group in Saturday’s mass start final. His lumbering 6-foot-2 strides helped him breakaway for two laps before he sunk back into the pack of 16 athletes.
That turned out to be the final burst of the nine-time Olympic medalist’s career, as he pulled up and did not finish the race.
The 35-year-old has made it clear that he is retiring following the Games, and he does so after earning the most medals of any men’s speed skater since the Winter Olympics began in 1924.
“I would have loved a better ending to my career, and I’m a bit sad that didn’t really work out here,” Kramer said. “I did give everything today.”
Kramer struggled leading up to the Olympics, as he had back surgery in May and missed the rest of the World Cup season.
He did not automatically qualify for the Olympic team at Dutch Trials, but he grabbed a spot for his value in the team pursuit and mass start events.
“It has been tough to even qualify for these Games,” Kramer said. “It hasn’t been an easy season at all. I knew it was going to be tough and I had to be at my very best between Christmas and New Years in order to make it.”
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A storybook ending was not needed to cement Kramer’s legacy. The Dutchman is the first male speed skater to secure gold in the same event at three straight Winter Olympics. He won the men’s 5000m in 2010, 2014 and 2018 before finishing ninth this year.
Kramer admitted before the Olympics that defending his title was going to be very difficult.
Another benchmark he reached was becoming the third speed skater to earn nine career medals in 2018, joining Germany’s Claudia Pechstein (nine) and Ireen Wuest of the Netherlands (won her 13th at the 2022 Winter Olympics).
His success transcended the Olympic ovals, as he is the all-time winningest speed skater in World Allround and World Single Distance championships.
While he did not win a medal at the 2022 Winter olympics, the Dutch legend’s head was held high after his final event.
“It’s not like I will never skate anymore, but I will certainly not compete anymore, and that feels pretty good,” Kramer said. “I don’t think I have to be ashamed of myself. I have achieved great things and had a fantastic career. It feels good to finish it.”