Dutch speed-skater gives up Olympic medal shot to let opponent go for gold

One of the odd facets of long-track speed-skating is that, despite it being a sport based on individual times, it still takes the form, if not the function, of a one-on-one race.

That can mean an adversarial relationship with the person next to you, or, as Friday at the Olympics showed, a chance at real sportsmanship.

Kai Verbij of the Netherlands displayed such sportsmanship when he found himself matched up with Canada's Laurent Dubreuil in the men's 1,000-meter event. Their common goal was to beat the time of Verbij's compatriot Tim Krol, the gold medal favorite who had posted a monster time of 1:07.92 two pairs earlier.

Verbij, a medal contender himself, got off to a strong start, basically even with Krol's time entering the final lap, but he had nothing on Dubreuil, who was 0.73 seconds ahead of the leader's pace and clearly pushing for the gold medal.

At that moment, however, Verbij was coming out of the inside track on a curve and was still physically ahead of Dubreuil, despite the Canadian being well ahead on time. Verbij knew if he stayed in the race, tried to stay ahead of Dubreuil as the latter took the inside track for the final curve, he would risk a medal-killing collision with his competitor.

So he pulled up, allowing Dubreuil to speed forward. The 29-year-old Canadian still finished just short of Krol with a time of 1:08.32, but that didn't diminish Verbij's gesture.

Watch it all play out here.

It might appear that Verbij had cramped up or something in the video, but he told Eurosport he really just wanted to get out of the way of Dubreuil:

"My first 600 meter was OK. Not great, not bad," he said. "Laurent [Dubreuil] was very quick and then you’re just not up there. I was in trouble.

"When I exited the inner lane I saw his higher top speed and knew: I have to get up, otherwise I would ruin his race and I’m not that kind of a*****e.

"I’m not angry. A little bit sad however that this had to happen right now. It’s a shame, but this is top sport. I was unlucky and it’s tough. I can be pathetic about it, but yeah … it happened and there’s nothing more I could do."

Keep in mind that Verbij still very much had a chance at a medal. As the Associated Press notes, Verbij is much stronger on the final lap of the 1,000-meter, while Dubreuil, the world's top-ranked 500-meter skater, is the faster starter. Dubreuil showed that by going from 0.73 seconds ahead of Krol to 0.40 seconds behind in the span of the final lap.

Krol, who also won silver in the 1,500-meter, told the AP that Verbij was "on the course for a medal, for sure."

BEIJING - TeamNL's Kai Verbij in action in the men's 1000 meters during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. ANP VINCENT JANNINK (Photo by ANP via Getty Images)
Kai Verbij gave up a chance at his first Olympic medal to avoid a collision. (Photo by ANP via Getty Images) (ANP via Getty Images)

Verbij may have pushed for his first Olympic medal after finishing sixth in the event at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang. Instead, the 2019 and 2021 world champion in the event finished dead last.

As you'd hope, Dubreuil seemed to appreciate the gesture.

From the AP:

“I can't say thank you enough to him,” Dubreuil said. “It was a really professional and classy move to do. He’s a friend, so when he gets over it — I’ll give him some time — I’ll thank him for sure.”

Dubreuil said it was “unfortunate for us to be tied with 250 to go.”

The move allowed Dubreuil to bounce back from a disappointing result in the earlier 500-meter in which he finished fourth despite being considered a gold-medal contender. Meanwhile, Verbij will have to wait for the next Olympics.