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Kramer, Wust lead strong Dutch speed skating team

BRUSSELS (AP) — Watch out for the Dutch at the Olympic speed skating oval — again. Led by Sven Kramer and Ireen Wust, they have the power and depth to dominate the medal podium at the Sochi Games.

And to add something unique, Jorien ter Mors could medal in both the long track and short track events at the Feb. 7-23 games after she qualified for the 1,500 meters. After Monday's final races of the Dutch qualifying tournament, the way is wide open for Kramer to make up for his mishap in Vancouver. He was the favorite to win three gold medals four years ago and become the Olympic skating star. But after winning the opening 5,000 meters, his coach sent him into the wrong lane when he was close to victory in the 10,000, leading to disqualification.

Deflated, the team pursuit also failed to produce gold. Now, after excellent victories over the two long-distance events in national qualifying, a sense of liberation came over him with Sochi in sight.

"It always is a relief," said Kramer after reaching his third Olympic games. "I always go for victory, but you always have to make sure it happens." Kramer may be a six-time all-around world champion and triple world record holder, but given the competition he faces in the Dutch trials, his relief in qualifying was no fake modesty.

Beside Kramer, Bob de Jong can claim the most impressive feat on the men's side. At 37, he qualified for his fifth Olympics in a row, and with his relentless endurance don't count him out for another medal in the 10,000. He already has a gold, silver and bronze over the sport's longest distance.

"I have gold within my grasp again," he said, directly challenging Kramer. It leaves the Dutch men with a realistic chance to win at least three of the six gold medals on the men's side, with Michel Mulder and Jan Smeekens having an outside shot too in the 500-1,000 sprint events.

With the United States and Germany, the Dutch are traditional powerhouse at the Olympic oval. In the women's events, the Dutch will count heavily on Wust, who had a sterling qualifying tournament. Over the 1,500, where she is the defending Olympic champion, Wust skated the fastest ever time at sea level.

"My best race still has to come — in February," she said. Wust also excelled at the 3,000, the distance over which she won her first gold back at the 2006 Games. Overall she qualified for four distances, and can add the team pursuit too.

In the team event, she might be joined by Ter Mors. After qualifying in the fall for the short track competition, she added the 1,500 long track too, to become the first woman to qualify for both events.

In Vancouver, Haralds Silovs became the first athlete overall to combine the two, but in Sochi, Ter Mors has a real shot at medals, especially in the team pursuit events.

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