Japan, Norway dethrone Dutch in team pursuit at Olympics

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Japan and Norway dethroned the Netherlands in the team pursuit Wednesday and restored a semblance of balance in Olympic speedskating at the Gangneung Oval.

World-record holder Japan won the women's event in a stirring race, edging the defending champion Dutch with an Olympic-record performance.

Norway first beat the Dutch men's team in the semifinals and followed it up with a victory over host nation South Korea in the final.

After a start in which the Dutch won the first five speedskating events and seemed poised to emulate their dominance from the 2014 Sochi Games, the second week has been a setback. They have taken only one of the last five gold medals, with Norway and Japan emerging as major challengers.

And nowhere was the surprise bigger on Wednesday than in the men's event, where multiple Olympic champion Sven Kramer was supposed to lead the team to an easy gold.

Norway was considered to be a stepping stone, but the Dutch team's age-old rival skated an Olympic-record race to rob the Netherlands of a place in the final.

The Norwegians took an early lead to put the Dutch under pressure, and it paid off. Kramer brought the Dutch almost level but when everything seemed to point toward a win for the Netherlands, the Norwegians picked up their speed again. Over eight laps, the trio won by 1.38 seconds and finished in an Olympic record time of 3 minutes, 37.08 seconds.

Netherlands coach Geert Kuiper said skater Jan Blokhuijsen's clapskate broke a spring at the start.

It didn't matter to the Norwegians, and their time proved the Dutch might not have caught them even at their best.

In the final, too, Norway had to fight throughout before the team from South Korea, which included two teenagers, succumbed in the final two laps.

"They twice had a great time," Kramer said of the Norwegians.

In the women's gold-medal race, Japan set out fastest, lost the middle part to the Dutch and hit back over the final two laps to win.

Miho Takagi, Nana Takagi and Ayano Sato set an Olympic record of 2:53.89 to beat the Dutch by 1.59 seconds.

"This is too crazy," said Johan de Wit, a Dutchman who coaches the Japan team. "It was coming. I didn't doubt it but it was tight."

Ireen Wust was seeking to become the most successful speedskater of all time with a sixth gold medal, but silver meant the Dutchwoman fell short of Lidia Skoblikova of the Soviet Union, who dominated in the early 1960s.

"I think this is my last Olympic race," Wust told Dutch broadcaster NOS. "Coming for gold and walking away for silver, it is tough."

The Dutch still lead with six speedskating gold medals and 13 overall, but it will never get close to the 23-of-36 total from the 2014 Sochi Games. Now, Japan is in second place with two gold and five overall, while Norway also has two gold but only three overall.

Also, the United States clinched its first long-track speedskating medal since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when the women's pursuit team beat Canada for bronze.