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Sábliková takes 5,000 ahead of Wüst, Kleibeuker

Czech skater makes third Sochi podium; Dutch team now up to 21 medals
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Martina Sáblíková defended her 5,000-meter title from Vancouver, winning the gold in a time of 6:51.54. This is the Czech's second medal of these Games; she also won silver in the 3,000. -Getty Images

Martina Sábliková of the Czech Republic won the ladies 5,000 meters as expected Wednesday in Sochi, bettering her own track record in the process. The Netherlands' Ireen Wüst took her fourth medal at these Olympics, and her third silver, and her teammate, 36-year-old Carien Kleibeuker, won bronze by a narrow margin over Russian Olga Graf.

In the first pair after the ice resurface, Kleibeuker, who had won the Dutch Olympic trials, skated a race starting with some fluctuating lap times, but then she got to a steady state, with 32.8 laps all through the second half of the race. Finishing in a 32.6 lap, she set a personal best of 6:55.66.

Good as a personal best may be, she feared for some time it would not be good enough for a medal. Four of the skaters starting after her had faster personal bests, and Wüst, who needed a personal best to beat Kleibeuker, had already proven that she was in excellent form.

When Graf, the bronze-medal winner in the 3,000, who had never skated faster than 7:01, started under the pace of Kleibeuker and continued with 32-second laps in a very even race, Kleibeuker feared, as she put it afterward, that "if [Graf] can do this much, I will certainly end up in fifth."

But gradually, Graf -- who was never more than 1.11 seconds faster than Kleibeuker -- had trouble keeping up the 32s and finished with a series of 33-second laps, giving the advantage away in the final lap and finishing in 6:55.77 (a national record).

"I am happy that I skated a national record, but I don't like my fourth place. But this is life," Graf said. "I am 30 years old, and these were my first Olympics, so I hope I can skate again in four years."

Kleibeuker skated at the Torino Games in 2006, but since then she has married, gotten a job and had a child. Two years ago, she started skating again.

Her 5-year-old daughter, Annemijn, whom she hadn't seen for two weeks, was carried to the center field to celebrate with her mom during the medals ceremony.

Carien said her daughter told her, "'Mama, you thought you didn't get a medal, didn't you? So did we, but I'm glad you do have one.'"

In the next pair, Sábliková, the defending champion, skated with Wüst. Wüst went fast from the start. Sáblikova started off with mid-32 laps, a bit below Kleibeuker's pace, but she saw Wüst get 2.5 seconds ahead of her, with an average of 32.0 in the first three laps. Then, slowly, Sábliková reeled her in, gaining a little each lap, with Wüst's laps dropping into the 33s, and she closed with a 34.1. Sábliková continued to skate 32-second laps until the end and set a new track record 6:51.54, not as fast as she had been in Vancouver but good enough for the victory.

Sábliková is the first Czech lady to win three gold medals at an Olympic Games, winter or summer.

"I saw [Wüst's] first laps were not as fast as normal, so I thought she might skate an even race, and I pushed everything I had in the last five laps," Sábliková said. "Then it was OK."

Wüst needed to squeeze out a good last lap to stay ahead of Kleibeuker and managed to, posting a personal-best 6:54.28.

Wüst is the first Dutch winter Olympian to win as many as four medals at a single Games.

"Every silver medal is different. The silver at this distance, like in the 1,000, is silver with a little bit of gold, and my 1,500-meter silver is just silver," Wüst said. "I am happy with my race and a personal best."

U.S. skater Maria Lamb was 11th at this distance at the World Single Distance Championships but couldn't do anything close to her potential, finishing 16th in 7:29.64.

"It wasn't the performance I know I'm capable of, but I gave it everything I had," Lamb said.