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Wust takes gold at third straight Winter Olympics Graf ready for exposure after bronze

SOCHI, Russia, Feb 9, (Agencies): Ireen Wust held up three fingers. One nail was painted red. The others were white and blue. Gold would’ve worked, too. Wust claimed a speedskating gold medal at her third straight Winter Olympics, knocking off defending champion Martina Sablikova in the 3,000 meters Sunday. That made the Netherlands 2-for-2 at Adler Arena, the world’s dominant speedskating nation living up to his billing through the first weekend in Sochi. “Seventeen million Dutch wanted me to win,” said Wust, who painted her nails in the colors of the Dutch flag. “Now the extreme pressure is off, and I can win more.” Skating in the next-to-last pairing on sea-level ice that wore down some other top contenders, including Germany’s Claudia Pechstein, the winner looked strong all the way through. She won with a time of 4 minutes, 0.34 seconds, easily beating the number Sablikova had just put up in the previous pairing. “The relief is immense,” Wust said, “and the satisfaction even greater.”

Sablikova, of the Czech Republic, settled for the silver in 4:01.95, clapping for her rival after Wust crossed the line. The bronze went to Olga Graf, who gave host Russia its first medal of the Winter Games in 4:03.47. That sent the crowd into a frenzy — and even brought kudos from Russian President Vladimir Putin. “You brought an unforgettable moment of triumph and utter joy to millions of fans by taking the first medal for our team,” Putin said. Pechstein was looking to win her 10th Olympic medal at age 41, but the German faded badly over the final laps and missed the podium. She was fourth in 4:05.26. Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima were again in the crowd, just as they were the day before when Sven Kramer took gold in the men’s 5,000. The royal couple saw another winning performance by their speedskating-mad country. The Dutch now have captured 29 Olympic golds, pulling even with the United States for the most victories in the sport.

The 27-year-old Wust kept holding up three fingers, which was only appropriate. She has been on top at three straight Olympics, claiming the 3,000 at the 2006 Turin Games and the 1,500 at Vancouver in 2010.
Wust came to Sochi as the skater to beat after winning the European allround title last month. She lived up to the billing, becoming the most decorated Dutch female Winter Olympian with three golds and a silver. “It’s three in a row,” Wust said, “and I want to become even more unique.” Her celebration was certainly one-of-a-kind. Wust went sliding on her rear toward the barrier lining the outside lane — the only time she went down all day. The other two medalists also whooped it up. Sablikova, who won gold in both the 3,000 and 5,000 at the Vancouver Games, didn’t seem to mind giving back one of her titles.

Meanwhile, winning the bronze medal in the women’s 3,000 metres speed skating will grant Olga Graf national exposure as Russia’s first medallist at their Sochi Games, but her wardrobe malfunction is likely to garner global fame. The 30-year-old chess-playing skater had the noisy crowd at the Adler Arena on their feet as she delivered a personal best in the race on Sunday. Roared across the finish line, she punched the air with delight after clocking her time on the giant scoreboard which briefly put her in gold medal position. As she slowed down the back straight to savour her skate, Graf unzipped her skin-tight suit to the waist and waving to the fans, before suddenly realising she had no shirt underneath.

Her eyes widening in embarassment, Graf pulled the suit together to protect her modesty. “I totally forgot that I had nothing under my suit,” the German speaking Russian told reporters, her deadpan expression melting into an embarrassed smile. “We have very, very tight suits and I just wanted to be able to breathe and take it off. I realised it after that. Maybe this video will appear on YouTube, but that’s not so bad.” Graf’s mark was surpassed by defending champion Martina Sablikova two heats later before Dutchwoman Irene Wust recorded the winning time in the penultimate 13th pairing. German great Claudia Pechstein could not better Graf, though, and her fourth place finish left the 41-year-old just shy of adding to her Olympic speed skating record medal haul of nine.

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