By Patrick Johnston
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Poland's Zbigniew Brodka denied the Dutch another Olympic speed skating gold medal by winning the men's 1,500 meters by just three thousands of a second on Saturday, while a change of suit failed to reverse America's slide on the Adler Arena ice.
Part-time fireman Brodka clocked one minute, 45 seconds in the 17th of 20 heats but then was left with his heart in his mouth as Dutch skater Koen Verweij crossed the finish line in the same time in the final pairing.
All eyes were fixed on the giant scoreboard at the Adler Arena as organizers tried to split them before determining the Pole had been victorious by the tiny margin.
"Its unbelievable," Brodka told reporters
"First of all I wasn't sure, but in the back of my mind I believed I had won. When I saw I had won it was an unbelievable feeling."
Brodka, 29, grabbed the Polish flag and took off on a lap of honor as he celebrated his country's first Olympic gold medal in speed skating despite not having a covered oval to train on at home.
He said he had commiserated with Verweij on the podium during the flower ceremony but added "that is sport".
Verweij's medal was the 13th for the Dutch in speed skating in Sochi, tying East Germany's record for most medals in the sport at a Winter Olympics.
That stat was of little consolation to the long haired 23-year-old, who was despondent at missing out on his country's fifth gold of the Sochi Games.
"When I crossed the finish line, I saw I had the same time. You hope it falls on your side but it didn't. You can't describe it," Verweij told reporters.
"Still silver, I don't know, it doesn't feel that good. I really wanted gold. The silver medal is for the first loser."
Denny Morrison of Canada took bronze to go with the silver medal he won in the 1,000 meters on Wednesday.
Morrison's double is two more medals than the United States have managed after seven speed skating events in Sochi.
BIG, BIG DISAPPOINTMENT
A change of suits, approved by the International Olympic Committee minutes before the start of Saturday's race, was aimed at sparking an upturn in fortunes for the four American skaters in the 1,500m, but none featured in the medal shake up.
Having ditched the high-tech Under Armour suits touted as the fastest in the world and now sporting skin tight ones that had brought success in the World Cup campaign, Brian Hansen finished seventh, Shani Davis 11th, Joey Mantia 22nd and Jonathan Kuck 37th.
Davis, who won silver in the 1,500m at the last two Olympics, was blown away in the 17th heat by Brodka and was left unsure if the Americans would find their way on to the speed skating podium before the Games finished.
"We have no medals man, we have none, and the way things are looking we might not get any, and it's sad because we've had a lot of potential, a lot of talent, a lot things going for us and looking good going forward," Davis said.
"But it's terrible, terrible, man. Big, big disappointment
(Reporting by Patrick Johnston; Editing by Peter Rutherford)