SOCHI, Russia --Sometimes you go to an arena to witness justice, and Tuesday brought a chance to see outstanding justice.
Tuesday brought the speed skating race so long, so laborious and so Herculean that after a while you wonder why they don't just stop going around and skate on outdoors and continue, with the caveat that there's no ice here.
Tuesday brought the men's 10,000 meters, and while that might not mean much to most, that meant time to rectify one of the most galling moments in Olympic history, the Vancouver outcome still residing in memory yet even worse than you recollected once you reread the events.
Back then, on Feb. 23, 2010, Sven Kramer skated toward resounding victory in the 10,000. He slaughtered the field. He smiled hugely over his gold at the finish. He noticed his girlfriend in the stands with her head strangely buried.
Within moments, he flung his goggles, stomped the ice.
On the 17th of the 25 laps, the Dutch stalwart had gone to change to the outside lane properly. His coach had looked up, thought his star skater in error and directed him inside. Kramer had thought the coach possibly errant, looked back at the other skater in his pair, noticed that skater on the inside and reckoned that skater probably still had to change.
That skater already had changed.
The coach, Gerard Kemkers, fervently directed Kramer inside just before the deadline marker. With 6.7 of the 16 million Dutch watching on TV, the winner of the 10,000-meters world championship in 2007, 2008 and 2009 stayed inside and managed to skate the final eight laps both oblivious and disqualified.
"It is wrong and I am wrong," Kemkers said to Dutch officials on the phone from ice-side.
"I've seen it once or twice in my career, but never with a top skater and certainly never in the Olympic Games," the American gold medalist Dan Jansen said on NBC.
"How Is This Possible!" screamed the headline in De Telegraaf in the skating-mad Netherlands.
"It happened. It is done with. It is terrible. The medal's in South Korea and we will never get it back," Kramer said.
"This will cost Sven a lot -- fame, being a champion, marketing, whatever," a disconsolate Kemkers said.
Who can know the coping process from such a towering gaffe on such a routine procedure? How many times across the ensuing four years did the thought of it wreak a cringe, stoke a wince, wreck a day?
Fourteen hundred days and change later, Sochi 2014 did come, and Kramer did remain healthy at 27, and the whole thing did set up nicely for some justice. On the first Saturday of these Games, Kramer won gold in the 5,000 meters and said of the Vancouver heartbreak in the paramount 10,000, "It's still there. It's still there. Maybe it will be gone in two weeks."
The last two weeks of the long four years went by, Kramer withdrew from the 1,500 to concentrate on the momentous 10,000, and here came the marathon, with seven pairs competing. Group after group went the long haul before the Dutch-heavy crowd. The affable American Patrick Meek, skating in the first group, finished 11th. The American teenager Emery Lehman finished 10th, skated his cool-down lap, sat down and vomited. In the third-to-last group, the 37-year-old Dutchman Bob de Jong skated the labor in 13 minutes, 7.19 seconds to assume a lead nobody thought he would maintain. Kramer's world record remains 12:41.69, albeit not at sea level that holds here.
Finally, Kramer readied to skate in the last pair with Lee Seung Hoon, the man into whose South Korean residence that 2010 gold medal had gone unexpectedly to everyone, including Lee himself. As ever, Kramer looked like some speed-skating statue. He took one last swig of water and spat that into the infield. He went to the starting line.
There had been a problem.
That problem had come from the Dutch camp, having nothing to do with dissension or woe and everything to do with unfathomable excellence, a Dutch trademark here.
In the previous pairing, the 28-year-old Dutch skater Jorrit Bergsma had gotten around the track in a manner that dazzled the knowledgeable. "Normally I skate really flat" times-wise, he said, but this time he ratcheted it up and reeled off 29-second laps near the end. In the 5,000, when he won bronze, he had been "too eager and blew up myself in the ice," he said, but this time he solved that.
When he finished, the scoreboard showed 12:44.45, both an Olympic record and a sea-level world record.
"It was pretty simple," Kramer said.
So this powerhouse with the Vancouver nightmare started off, looked like a dream, stayed three seconds ahead of Bergsma's time down to the quarter of the trek, then had the seconds start to rush. He was 0.80 seconds ahead. He was 0.11 seconds ahead. He was 0.79 seconds behind. He was 2.55 seconds behind.
He was 4.58 seconds behind.
His time would have marked an Olympic record also, by more than nine seconds, yet it trailed Bergsma by 4.58 seconds. Another Dutch sweep had occurred. The Dutch medal tally had grown from 16 to 19 (out of 27 given at speed skating). They brought three Dutchmen into the press conference after the fourth Dutch sweep at the venue. They brought a 37-year-old bronze medalist (de Jong) who has won medals in four different Olympics, his first at Nagano 1998, a fresh gold medalist who took a call from Netherlands prime minister Mark Rutte halfway through the session, and one of those silver medalists you see sometimes at Olympics, one who doesn't feel elation.
Kramer's comments included, "I'm really disappointed but I have to say Jorrit did an amazing job," and, "He was unbeatable today," and, "I'm not going to race for the second place," and, "The first couple of laps I was skating a little too fast."
He left, the prime minister called Bergsma right there on the dais, and Bergsma finished that, took a question and said, "It's of course really a pity what happened in Vancouver and I can understand people would really like to see Sven win..."
Then with a half-smile showing his considerable teeth, he said: "My goal was to win gold here and I'm not giving the gold away for Sven's story."
Meanwhile, sometimes an Olympic silver medal can seem joyous, and sometimes an Olympic silver medal can seem disappointing, and sometimes you go to an arena to witness justice and relearn that it's elusive.