In the Netherlands locals sometimes say the atmosphere is four
parts nitrogen, one part oxygen and three parts speed skating.
Dutch star Gianni Romme, however, was so clumsy a skater as a boy
that he once compared his technique to "fish swimming on sand."
He compensated by training harder. When he was 16, for example,
he decided that jumping drills on one leg with a 50-pound sandbag
on his back weren't taxing enough, so he replaced the sandbag
with his 160-pound father, Toon, a speed skating instructor. The
work paid off in Nagano in 1998, when Gianni won gold medals in
the 5,000 and 10,000 meters in world-record times.
Romme, 28, still outworks his rivals, skating hard and biking up
mountains in Switzerland. "Nobody does what Gianni does," says
Peter Mueller, his U.S.-born coach. "He doesn't do anything
halfway." Romme takes that same approach to his hobby, watching
cult films. He has seen his favorite, The Big Lebowski, at least
50 times, many on a home screen that measures six feet by 10
feet. In December he stunned his countrymen when, perhaps
overtrained, he qualified only for the 10,000 at the Dutch
trials, missing out on a berth at 5,000, a distance at which he
had been dominant. With that as motivation, Romme should perform
like a champion in Salt Lake City--not like a fish swimming on
COLOR PHOTO: STEFAN MATZKE/NEWSPORT