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2010 Winter Olympics: Dutch speed skater Sven Kramer builds an Olympic legacy

Holland's speed skaters, from bottom to top, Jan Blokhuizen, Mark Tuitert, Simon Kuipers, and  Sven Kramer train for the team pursuit at the Richmond Olympic Oval in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday. The race will be held Wednesday.
Holland's speed skaters, from bottom to top, Jan Blokhuizen, Mark Tuitert, Simon Kuipers, and Sven Kramer train for the team pursuit at the Richmond Olympic Oval in Vancouver, British Columbia, Monday. The race will be held Wednesday.
Kevin Frayer, AP

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Every now and then, an Olympic athlete comes along who is without peer — someone who relegates everyone else to fighting for second place.

Toni Sailer swept his three Alpine skiing events at the 1956 Games, and in the 1920s and 30s, Sonja Henie won three consecutive Olympic golds and 10 straight world championships in women's figure skating.

Sven Kramer might be remembered with similar reverence when his career is over. The tireless Dutchman won world championships in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters each of the last three years. He then took the 5,000 early on at the Vancouver Games, entering Tuesday's 10,000 on quite a roll.

"Mentally he is a killer," said teammate Ireen Wust, who won gold in the women's 1,500 Sunday.

Kramer's race Tuesday was slated to air on NBC, along with the women's figure skating short program and men's giant slalom. American Bode Miller established himself as a medal hopeful in the latter, trying to become the first man to win four Alpine skiing medals at a single Olympics.

Although everyone loves an upset, there's something special about Olympic dominance, from Henie to Heiden — as in Eric Heiden, who won five speedskating golds at the 1980 Games.

Sometimes it's a country, not an individual, that enjoys virtual hegemony over a sport. This year, German Tatjana Huefner won her country's fourth straight Olympic gold in women's luge. Germany has won 10 of a possible 12 medals in that span.

Kramer, who turns 24 in April, won the 5,000 on the first Saturday of the Vancouver Games, setting an Olympic record in the process. In 2008, Kramer won the 10,000 world title by 21.1 seconds over Italy's Enrico Fabris, roughly the same margin that separated second place from eighth.

"He has a flawless skating technique and a feeling for the ice conditions," said Gerard Kemkers, Kramer's coach. "All these victories though also make it tougher, because the streak creates pressure in itself. There is no race that he can treat like a training race, because every time he has to be ready to take pressure."

Kramer wasn't the only athlete with high expectations this year. Snowboarder Shaun White and Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn were two American headliners coming into these Olympics, and each has come through with a gold medal.

Simon Ammann of Switzerland made big news by winning two individual golds in ski jumping.

Miller's path to Olympic greatness has been a bit rocky. He entered the 2006 Games with recent world championships in four different events, but he flopped spectacularly at those Olympics, failing to win a medal.

This year, Miller collected medals of each color in the downhill, super-G and super-combined, reminding everyone why there was so much hype surrounding him four years ago.

"I feel good, and when I race like I have here it's so much fun to do," Miller said after winning the super-combined Sunday. "It's how I used to ski when I was little."

Miller's giant slalom will be aired by NBC in prime time along with figure skating, women's skicross and the Nordic combined.