The Dutch proved their long-track speed skating dominance again Sunday in the women's 3000m, as Ireen Wust claimed another gold medal eight years after winning her first in Turin.
The silver went to 2010 gold medalist Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic — but while the top spots on the podium went to earlier Olympic champions, Russia's own Olga Graf took the bronze in what may have marked the event's biggest surprise.
Graf, 30, a former karate expert turned speed skater, secured the Winter Games' host country its first Olympic medal yet when she sailed into the lead well into the competition's pairs skates.
She also set the pace for the Olympic champions who followed her, finishing in 4:03.47 — a time not even the world's most decorated Olympic speed skater, Germany's 41-year-old Claudia Pechstein, managed to top. (Pechstein came in fourth after facing in her final laps.)
Defending gold medalist Sablikova surpassed that time skating just afterward, skating the race in 4:01.95. After her, Wust skated in a time of 4:00.34 — making for a repeat of the the feat she accomplished in Turin at just 19 years old.
The king and queen of the Netherlands 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 nation.
The Dutch have now captured 29 Olympic golds, pulling even with the United States for the most victories in the sport.
Wust kept holding up three fingers — the nails painted red, white and blue to symbolize the Dutch flag — after taking the third gold medal of her Olympic career. She even went sliding on her rear to celebrate, the only time she stumbled all day.
The 27-year-old Wust has won gold at three straight Olympics, also capturing the 1,500 at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
"This is three in a row," she said. "This is great."
Wust came into Sochi as the skater to beat after taking 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.
The other two medalists also celebrated wildly. 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 to Wust. The Dutch skater took gold in the 3,000 at the 2006 Turin Games, Sablikova claimed the victory four years ago, and now it's Wust on top again.
"Wust was simply very fast today and nobody could fight her," Sablikova said.
No one was more thrilled than Graf, who glided around the rink on one skate like she was flying and nearly had an embarrassing moment when she began unzipping her skin-tight suit in the ecstasy of the moment — then zipped it back up quickly when she realized there was nothing on underneath.
Pechstein looked like a skater approaching her 42nd birthday, unable to channel her anger over missing the Vancouver Games into a medal-winning performance. She was suspended over abnormal blood levels, even though she had never failed a doping test and steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.
She'll have another chance for that 10th medal in the 5,000.
"Finishing fourth at 41, that isn't that bad," Pechstein said. "The ice quality was tough but it was the same for everyone. I didn't feel as old as I am. I'm feeling good about the 5k. I can still get my medal there."
Jilleanne Rookard of Woodhaven, Mich., who skated in the pairing with Graf, was the highest-finishing American. She took 10th out of 28 skaters in 4:10.02. Anna Ringsred of Duluth, Minn., was 27th.