Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Dutch Speed Skaters Rule Supreme

The Dutch are proving unstoppable when it comes to collecting speed skating medals at the Sochi Winter Olympics this year. The runaway success of team NL has the world talking.

The media coverage around the globe started off positive, congratulatory and with a sense of amazement at the sight of an all orange podium. By the third all orange podium, the talk started to turn a little negative. And somewhere in between the media began printing stories and explanations for the Dutch success that were downright inaccurate and from the world of children's fairy stories.

Dutch visiting relatives en masse on their ice skates
(or back in the real world where the Dutch live: recreational
skating on a frozen lake)
I read one report that stated the Dutch have ice skating in their blood (as a foreigner here, I would tend to say that much is true) and that the natives of the Netherlands actually visit friends and families in the next village in winter by skating along the canals and waterways. Quaint, but totally untrue. Once upon a time that may well have been the case, but the Dutch, like all societies, have moved on. They now have cars, families that are dispersed, and houses in areas that are not surrounded on all sides by water, making such a social visit on ice skates an impossibility. Plus.. really? The idea has the Dutch tittering loudly. Very loudly. You can just imagine talk around the Dutch office coffee machines about Sven Kramer owing his success to those visits to his granny on ice skates.

Another report put the Dutch Olympic skating success down to the fact that ice skating at a competitive level is nothing new for the Dutch, with an Elfstedentocht being held every year up until 1997. Factually incorrect; without a good, long, hard freeze the race cannot take place and not every winter is that cold here. Research is king.
Not every Dutch winter looks like this

Yesterday, I heard that the Estonian press ran an article that stated that the Dutch give birth and then skate home from the hospital with their newborns. The mind boggles. Yes, ice skates are an essential element of every Dutch woman's winter hospital bag.

What the press is trying to say, by fabricating the Dutch relationship with ice skating, is that there is a history and a culture of skating in this low lying country. However, I am guessing (and I'm no Olympian so bear with me) that the Dutch speed skating success has much to do with natural talent combined with large dollops of hard work and immense training. The Dutch skaters, as a team, have peaked at the right time (an Olympics seems a pretty good place to secure personal bests in my opinion, but as I said I'm no Olympian) and their hard work has been translated into medals. Lots of shiny medals.

Skating historian, Marnix Koolhaas, has now added his few cents worth of opinion to the debate about the Dutch success stating that this medal collection is great for the Netherlands, but not so good for speed skating across the rest of the world. The Dutch have made the sport less attractive to other nations because of their domination of the sport. The Norwegians have pulled out of the 10,000km race because they know they can't win it. Again, I'm no Olympian, but that really doesn't seem to be in the spirit of the games. Imagine if all the competitors behaved like that? However, that is how it is, and is the reason for Marnix Koolhaas' statements.

It looks like the world is getting a little fed up of seeing the men and women in orange on the skating track.
"And the Wall Street Journal wrote: 'Everyone sick of watching the Dutch win speedskating medals, please raise your hand. Hmm. Seems like everyone who isn’t wearing orange underwear has a hand in the air.' " - Dutch News 17 February 2014
Bah humbug! Now, if you'll excuse me I have to prepare for watching a 10,000km race later today. HUP HOLLAND HUP!


  1. I'm glad that you keep bringing up the idea of "Olympic spirit." I've been hearing the criticisms and all I can think is that there are a bunch of "sore losers" out there. The Olympics are a gathering of the best of the best in their sport - I think we should continue to be impressed at the Dutch speed skating team's amazing feats rather than whining that they're "too good." As an American, I would have been thrilled if Shani Davis had placed, but I'm not bitter that he hasn't. I would, however, be annoyed if he dropped out because he felt he couldn't win - nothing is guaranteed, so try your best and be a good competitor.

  2. Exactly my sentiment - I understand the athletes want to win medals.... but the majority don't and they need to just suck it up. We can't all be gold medalists. Sore losers indeed.....

  3. It is very typical, when someone or some group are at the top, that someone wants to bring them down. They quite clealry are the best at what they do, and to come up with those silly stories about why this may be so is just too silly.
    I love watching the Olympics because I love to see people, from any country do their best and accomplish fantastic things.
    Great post!

  4. You're blog was sooo funny (and very accurate) I had to stop myself from falling out of my chair laughing, especially the thought of dutch women skating home with their newborns as the estonian press mentioned. I'm a Dutch guy and you were so right with everything you wrote in your blog. Thanks for making my day, omg I laughed so hard! Keep up the good work!