SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Exhausted, Stefan Groothuis sat on an infield bench and started choking up as he saw one challenger after another falter.
The freak injuries, illnesses, depression, the thoughts of suicide — a catalog of bad luck was about to turn into Olympic gold with one powerful 1,000 meter race few expected the Dutchman still had in him at 32.
"I almost started to cry, thinking: this is not happening," he said.
Going early with most of the medal contenders still to come, Groothuis set an Adler Arena track record of 1 minute 8.39 seconds and then had to sit and wait for four more pairs to race.
Canadian Denny Morrison of Canada scared him big time when he came within .04 seconds.
Double defending champion Shani Davis was still to come.
The American, one year younger than Groothuis, couldn't summon the Dutchman's power and kick and faded into eighth place.
Groothuis released a massive "Yes!!!!" when the final challenger, Denis Kuzin, failed to beat his time. He grabbed Jac Orie, the coach who kept faith in him when so many others had given up, in a bear hug that almost broke Orie's glasses.
Morrison took silver and 500 champion Michel Mulder added bronze to make it another outstanding Dutch party at the Olympic oval.
In the summer of 2011 Groothuis fought depression and even contemplated suicide while his wife Ester was pregnant with their first child. "I was pretty close. And that is pretty shocking to say," he told Dutch national broadcaster NOS last year.
Now the couple was kissing beside the ice, Groothuis with the Dutch flag draped over his shoulders as they celebrated the fourth gold medal in five speedskating events for the Dutch.
"She went through enough bad times," he said. "I am so thankful that she has been there for me all this time."
If Groothuis came up with a comeback of a lifetime, Davis shocked with a defeat no one had expected.
He was poised to become the first male speedskater to capture the same event at three consecutive Olympics. He ended up with no medal of any color. It was a stunning loss for one of the greatest speedskaters ever.