After the ridiculous comments made by American commentator Katie Couric about the Dutch dominance in speed skating being the result of skating everywhere in the winter as a mode of transport and after apologising, but only after she received, as the Dutch would say, ‘buckets of shit poured over her’, it’s probably a good idea to find out how this dominance began.
Another rookie mistake made by Couric was equating Amsterdam with the Netherlands, something that grates more than a cheese grater at a Dutch breakfast table. Most Dutch skaters, if not all of them, come from villages nowhere near Amsterdam, often in the province of Friesland where people speak Frisian as well as Dutch.
Trigger warning: people used to skate on frozen canals back in the day, but due to milder winters, canals freeze less often, so people skate indoors. And yes, this woman is trying her best to pronounce Dutch names, but ‘Koen’ is ‘Koon’, not ‘Ko-en’ and I don’t understand how we got ‘Irene Worst’ out of ‘Ireen Wüst’ (more like ‘E-rain Woost’) or Netherlands (‘lands’ should be ‘lunds’).
On 26 January as of 7:30 CET you can follow a whole bunch of Dutch and other skaters live with commentary, interviews and Dutch music (they’re live now) who have successfully cut work and shimmied down to Austria to skate the Alternative Elfstedentocht on the picturesque Weissensee in Austria.
Here’s something from the old box, as we say in Dutch: an American reporter of the NBC tries to interview Olympic gold speed skating champion Sven Kramer after his win in the 5000 metre event in Vancouver in 2010. Prefaced by a Dutch journalist saying ‘the interview started in a weird way’, Kramer tells the NBC reporter exactly what he thinks of her first question – watch the video to find out.
Part of me thinks, ‘wow, his answer was rude! And then he continues normally as if he hadn’t been rude’. The other part of me thinks, ‘wow, what an ignorant journalist asking a gold medal winner to identify themselves because if it were an American she would never have done that’.
This video fragment is like those pictures where depending how you look at them, you can see two different things, but never both at once.
Yesterday a trio of Dutch skaters swept the podium at the 2014 Winter Olympics. They were the third trio of Dutch skaters to do so these Olympic Games.
The 17 medals won by the Dutch team, including 5 gold ones, has led to a sense of euphoria among the press. Hosts of the evening talk show by public broadcaster NOS, Studio Sportwinter, started speculating on air how many more medals ‘we’ would rake in during the rest of the games. Of the 17 medals, 16 were won in long track speed skating.
What makes these numbers even more interesting is that yesterday’s 1500 metre long track speed skating winner Jorien ter Horst comes from another discipline, short track speed skating. She said after the race that she would trade in her gold for “success in a short track event”.
Ter Horst’s statement, echoed by her coach Jeroen Otter, caused friction in the long track camp. Gerard Kemkers called the statements “incomprehensible”. Rintje Ritsma said Otter “must be a bit loopy”. Gianni Romme thought Ter Mors was being irresponsible: “how painful must her statement be for Koen Verweij?” Verweij is a skater who missed a first place by 0.003 seconds last week.
Ter Horst was asked to explain herself in Studio Sportwinter, where she said: “I’ve been competing in short track for ten years, that is the discipline I’ve put all my passion and effort into. Long track has only been part of my life for the past two years.”
The comments of former medallists Kemkers, Ritsma and Romme reflect the Dutch sense of long track speed skating owning the Olympics. Dutch competitors in other disciplines are viewed as odd-ball outsiders. When one of these outsiders participates in the only ‘real’ discipline, they should apparently do so while showing the proper deference. Perhaps the long track skaters should wonder how it is that somebody who considers their discipline somewhat of a distraction is still able to beat all the other competitors at their own game.
In the meantime Ter Mors has gone into damage control mode. She toned down her message on Twitter: “Olympic gold, a remarkable feeling. I would not trade it for anything in the world.” (She used a clever ironic pun that I don’t know how to translate into English. She said “[ik] zou hem voor geen goud willen missen”, which literally means “[I] would not trade it for gold.”)
Arjan Robben and Dirk Kuyt may be household names the world over, but this year they have to leave the strongest brand title to long track speed skater Sven Kramer.
A poll held by Hendrik Beerda Brand Consultancy confirms this. The first woman in the list of strongest brands is Ireen Wüst, also a speed skater, taking the number three spot between the two strikers.
The Elfstedentocht and the Olympic Games switched positions as the most popular events, the latter taking over the number one spot, followed by the World Cup football and the Tour de France. The European Football Championship only came in fifth among events.
Outside the Netherlands Sven Kramer is perhaps best known for the gold medal he failed to win at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics due to a technicality. He has been ruling supreme in long distance and all-round championships since 2007, although he had to skip the 2010-2011 season due to an injury.
Both events are about as old, but the Elfstedentocht is held on average every seven years, when conditions in Friesland are harsh enough to freeze over 200 kilometres’ worth of canals. On the list of strong sports brands, the Olympics only get a peek in at three, after the Elfstedentocht and football goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.
Speed skaters have suffered no ill effects from the economic crisis, reports Z24 (Dutch).
The on-line financial magazine points out that sponsor contracts for long track speed skating teams tend to be long term. Insurers TVM and DSB for instance have sponsorship contracts in place until 2014. “Skating has loyal partners,” Barbara Peeters of Referee Sportsmarketing is quoted as saying.
But the main reason appears to be the loyalty of the fans. “Skating is not a sport, but a madness,” the TVM team’s manager Patrick Wouters said.
And what may also help is that skating matches generate an enormous amount of exposure. Whereas the most popular sport, football, is behind a pay wall with only an hour of summaries shown on public television, long track speed skating is shown 120+ hours a year. With only a few companies sponsoring the sport, logos tend to be on screen for a long time.