Koss never sets lap-time goals when he skates, reasoning that if you are slower than you've planned, you begin to panic and lose your form, and that if you're faster than you've planned, you begin to worry that you'll tire. "And I can tell you," he says, "if you think you're going to cramp up, you're going to cramp up."
Koss skated his first lap of the 10,000 in 35.12. He then proceeded to reel off 24 straight laps that were between 32 and 33 seconds. Speed skaters refer to that as a flat race. But no one had ever seen a race that flat, that fast. He was a machine—tireless, relentless—and he was pulling away from the world-record pace with every lap. Every Norwegian in Hamar seemed to know it.
Koss, of course, knew it too. "I had never seen such fast lap limes," he says. "The coaches were holding them up, but they weren't making any body movements. If they had looked afraid for me, then I would have been afraid. But they were totally normal, no face movements, and it made me feel normal."
"It looked so easy," said Ritsma, who wound up seventh. "He looked like he was on vacation."
Koss's final time was 13:30.55. He had broken his record by a staggering 12.99 seconds. The second-place skater, Norway's Storelid, was 18.70 behind him. The bronze medalist, Bart VeldKamp of Holland, who was 26.18 seconds in arrears, predicted. 'This is a record that will stand for 30 years."
In the ensuing hoopla and celebration, a Norwegian government official announced that the Ministry of Culture would erect a statue of Koss in the Vikingskipet beside that of Andersen, so his feats in 1994 would be forever remembered. Koss's polite but immediate response: "I am very honored, but I would prefer that the money for the statue be sent to Olympic Aid." Then he added, smiling: "Maybe in 50 years."
Ketil Moe is also doing a flat race. Fifteen-minute miles, four miles per hour, mile after mile through New York City's boroughs. The street bands are starting to play, and Moe seems to be gaining some sort of second wind. His stops to cough and spit are less frequent now that the race is in its fourth hour. Koss has been at his side nearly every step, leaving once to buy fruit for Moe at a grocery store and another time to track down some Advil when Moe said he had a headache.
Koss was in New York last April as a newly appointed goodwill ambassador for the Norwegian Department of Foreign Affairs. He came to attend a charity party organized by the Norwegian Trade Council. He brought his girlfriend, Trine Landsem, who is also a medical student, and they were there basically to vacation. Koss is far too well known in Norway and northern Europe to be able to travel there in peace. He also did a round of newspaper interviews promoting Olympic Aid. While talking with a freelance writer, Brian Cazeneuve, whom he had met in Lillehammer, Koss learned that Cazeneuve sometimes volunteered in a soup kitchen for the homeless. Koss asked if he could come along. "He said, 'I want to see how these people live,' " Cazeneuve recalls. "He didn't want anyone to know. No camera people. No article. He had a very busy schedule, but we went on a Saturday morning. When we got to the shelter, he put on an apron, talked to the people, served them meals, cleaned up after them, put out new place settings. He kept asking how a rich country like ours could have these problems. No one had any idea who he was until finally a priest, who'd been watching us, came up and asked. 'How many gold medals did you win?' "
By mile 19 the tendinitis in Koss's knee has flared up, and he is limping as he walks alongside Moe, offering encouragement, massaging his friend's hunched back. Astrid Moe watches the two of them with a smile that shines from deep within her soul. Every day Ketil lives is a day that has been stolen from the odds. The two of them take nothing for granted. Watching Koss and his manner with Ketil, she says, "You know, in Norway people think of him like a saint."
Koss kept his promise to the children of Eritrea. On the last day of the Olympics, empowered by his fame, he auctioned off his skates and raised another $90,000 for Olympic Aid. Then he went to the media and, through them, issued a challenge to the children of Norway. He asked them to gather their extra usable sports equipment—soccer balls, shorts, jerseys, hats, shoes—so he could bring it with him when he revisited Eritrea in May.