Speedskating champ chooses sportsmanship over Olympic medal

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BEIJING (AP) — Kai Verbij was the reigning world champion in speedskating's 1,000 meters.

The Dutch star really liked his chances of winning a medal Friday at the Beijing Olympics.

But, with a split-second bit of sportsmanship, Verbij lost any chance of claiming a spot on the podium.

In fact, he finished dead last.

Verbij backed off on the final crossover straight, knowing he didn't have quite enough speed to get in front of Canada's Laurent Dubreuil.

Rather than a risk a collision, Verbij popped out of his racing crouch and slowed so he stayed clear of Dubreuil, who zipped away to capture the silver medal.

With his medal chances gone, Verbij coasted around to the finish line. He wound up more than 3 1/2 seconds behind the best-to-last finisher, Austin Kleba of the United States.

“I’m pretty sad I couldn’t set a proper time,” Verbij said. “But Laurent skated really, really fast in the first 600. It can happen. After the second inner, I didn't feel I had enough speed to go before him in the lane change. So I had to quit. Otherwise, I would’ve been disqualified and probably messed up his race.”

Related video: Meet Team USA speedskater Erin Jackson

In speedskating, the competitors are required to change lanes on the back straightaway of each full lap because the inner lane of the 400-meter oval covers a shorter distance than the outer lane.

The skater going from the outer to inner lane has priority, and there's usually no issue with the changeover.

But Dubreuil, whose best race is the 500, went out exceptionally fast. That left him even with Verbij as they came off the next-to-last turn.

Rather than attempt a risky move, Verbij gave way to his competitor.

“I can't say thank you enough to him,” Dubreuil said. “It was a really professional and classy move to do. He’s a friend, so when he’s gets over it — I’ll give him some time — I’ll thank him for sure.”

Dubreuil said it was “unfortunate for us to be tied with 250 to go.”

“I went faster than I’ve ever gone in the 600,” the Canadian skater said. "I was ahead of what I've been in my race plan.”

Verbij, who finished sixth in the 1,000 at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, had high hopes for his first Olympic medal in Beijing.

But when he saw the start list, he knew there could be an issue with the final changeover because of Dubreuil's early speed. Verbij, on the other hand, is much stronger on the final lap.

“It's not the first time it's happened to me, but not at the Olympics, of course," Verbij said. “It's pretty sad. I’m pretty disappointed. But someone had to lose, I guess.”

Another Dutch skater, Thomas Krol, captured the gold at the Ice Ribbon arena.

Krol lamented that his teammate didn't get a chance to show what he could do.

“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.”


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