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Dutch Speed Skater Sets New World Record - 2002-02-17

A Dutch speed skater has broken the world record on his way to winning the gold medal in the men's 1000-meters race at the Olympics in Kearns, Utah. Gerhard van Velde shaved more than one-half second off the old mark set just two months ago at the same oval.

As you enter the Utah Olympic Oval, above the doorway is a stone with the names of the world record holders carved into it. Until Saturday Jeremy Wotherspoon's name was beside the slot for the 1000-meters. Now the masons will have to change it to Gerhard Van Velde of the Netherlands.

Van Velde skated in the 15th pair of racers Saturday, and broke Wotherspoon's record by 54/100ths of one second, finishing in one minute, 7.18 seconds. Van Velde, the fourth place finisher in the 1998 games, had walked away from speed skating and was selling cars before being encouraged to return to the track.

The Dutch skater, who resembles Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger, held his hands over his eyes and had a look of disbelief on his face when he saw his time. Van Velde said he did not expect to medal, much less set a new world record. "I did not expect this. I really did not expect this race to come out like this," he said. "It was just like a normal race. I was before the start just relaxed. Two hours before I bought a motorcycle. And I was really relaxed."

The silver medal went to Van Velde's countryman Jan Bos, who was 35/100ths of one second back. American Joey Cheek, who has struggled in the 1,000-meters since the U.S. Olympic trials, took the bronze medal 43/100ths of one second behind Van Velde All three medal winners had faster times than the preivous mark.

Cheek said that he had to overcome his own demons to make the podium. "I have worked so hard mentally with sports psychologists and with my coaches to when those doubts start creeping in to kind of shout at them and say 'no I am not going to let the fear and that come in an ruin me'. So I can not believe I just won a medal in the Olympics," he said.

American Kip Carpenter, the bronze medallist in the 500-meters, finished fourth. And Jeremy Wotherspoon the former world record holder from Canada finished 13th, more than 1.5 seconds behind Van Velde.