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Kramer keeps coach: 'It happened. It is done with'

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RAF CASERT | February 24, 2010 10:18 PM EST | AP

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RICHMOND, British Columbia — Sven Kramer's trust in his coach can be measured in victories.

"Three times world champion, four times European champion, so many World Cups and Olympic gold in the 5,000 meters," he said.

Kramer was not about to get rid of Gerard Kemkers for one blunder – even if it was one of the biggest in Olympic history.

"The past years were simply too good to drop someone just like that," he said on the morning after Kemkers sent him into the wrong lane as he seemed headed to victory in the 10,000 in his usual dominating style. The error was so rare it defied belief.

"Such things can happen to the best of us, but also to the biggest amateurs," Kramer said Wednesday after a training session for the team pursuit.

Initial anger and recriminations abated during a conversation Tuesday night when both skater and coach reaffirmed their trust in each other.

"Our talk was not easy, but we both came out of it all right. And that is the most important. I am not the kind of person to stay angry too long," Kramer said.

"It happened. It is done with. It is terrible. The medal is in South Korea and we will never get it back," he said, referring to the victory for Lee Seung-hoon after the disqualification.

IOC president Jacques Rogge felt for both athlete and coach.

"It is true that a successful coach and athlete is like a couple. It is up to Sven to see how he reacts," Rogge said at the Olympic Oval on Wednesday.

One day later, Kemkers still had not seen the replays on television. He didn't need to.

"It is burned into my retina," he said.

Kemkers was busy writing speedskating code to show how Kramer's race was progressing over halfway through the race when, in a split second, he lost his way.

Coaches monitor changeovers to make sure skaters move inside or out but usually never have to do a thing. Never in his career had Kemkers needed to correct Kramer.

And as Kramer was making a move to go to the outside lane – the correct option – Kemkers thought for the first time his pupil was wrong. And this in the biggest race of his life.

Not fully convinced, he looked back and saw skater Ivan Skobrev, who had cut inside early in the changeover, and presumed the Russian had to move outside. Wrong again.

With Kramer approaching the red cone at the end of the changeover, Kemkers desperately pointed him inside with one finger, sending his skater straight into a DQ.

"I make hundreds of thousands of those decisions. Time and again, and always the decisions were right," Kemkers said. On Tuesday though, "I was convinced he made the error, not me."

At home in the Netherlands, 6.7 million people from a population of 16 million were watching the drama unfold on television. And the questions quickly followed on how Kemkers could have been so wrong.

It's not as if he were a speedskating rookie. He won the bronze medal in the 5,000 at the 1988 Calgary Games and led Ireen Wust and Jochem Uytdehaage to multiple Olympic gold medals. He also coached the U.S. speedskating team at the 1998 Nagano Games.

"How is this possible!" screamed the headline in the mass circulation newspaper De Telegraaf.

Kemkers said the fatal distraction was caused by trying to do too many things at the same time. Writing down information, forcing him to look away from the ice for a few vital seconds, did him in. Most other coaches use finger indicators, but Kemkers has it written down on a white board.

He was also using a wireless phone for the first time at the games to get word from other Dutch officials.

"I was distracted by the fact that I wanted to coach him too perfectly," Kemkers said.

In the end, the most important message he shouted through his wireless phone came immediately after the blunder: "It is wrong and I am wrong."

Kramer is so demanding on race information, he sometimes shouts questions at Kemkers hoping to get answers the next time around.

As standard practice, Kramer said, "I want to know five to six times how big my lead is. If that is the deal, you try to do it as well as possible. You cannot blame somebody for that."

"This way I also won a lot of races," he added.

The blunder though will lead to a reevaluation of coaching during races.

"It is something to think about in the future," Kramer said.

As long as both coach and skater are at the Olympics – concentrating on Friday and Saturday's team pursuit – the issue will be contained.

"He is still No. 1 and should go out and try and win a gold in the team pursuit," Rogge said.

What happens afterward remains a big question.

"This is an incident of such proportion that there will be consequences," Kemkers said. "It is unique situation that someone loses gold because of a coaching error.

"It has an enormous impact. It is the category that it will come back every year. This will cost Sven a lot – fame, being a champion, marketing, whatever."

___

AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson contributed to this report.