Thursday 18 December 2014

Medal haul of Dutch speed skating team a lesson to all small nations

Donny Mahoney

Published 26/02/2014 | 02:30

Team Netherlands: (L-R) Jan Blokhuijsen, Sven Kramer, and Koen Verweij compete in the men's speed skating team pursuit gold-medal final during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
Team Netherlands: (L-R) Jan Blokhuijsen, Sven Kramer, and Koen Verweij compete in the men's speed skating team pursuit gold-medal final during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

Now that the last curling stone has been cast in Sochi, it's perhaps worth looking at what small nations can take from the past two weeks of winter sport.

Holland's achievement in the rather unspectacular sport of speed skating deserves serious meditation for all sports funding bodies. Twenty-three of the 36 speed skating medals handed out during the Sochi games will be travelling back to the Netherlands this week. Surely no nation has dominated a sport so comprehensively.

I've read loads of theories about how the Dutch managed it: societal interest in long-distance skating due to an abundance of frozen water in the winter; pedigree and public interest in the sport, even the abundance of bicycles in the country, which apparently grooms future Olympians.

Twenty-three medals is not a bad turnover for a country of 16 million and proves what can be accomplished if a country's high performance unit executes to its full potential in a sport that has legitimate public appeal.

Meanwhile, the USA were shut out in speed skating, a subject about which the Dutch coach Jillert Anema felt entitled to lecture the American media, saying: "You have a lot of attention for foolish sport, like American football. You waste a lot of talent, athletic talent, in a sport where it's meant to kill each other, to injure each other."

Is holistic sport the way forward for all?

I'm not sure you could convince the Peyton Mannings of the world that they surrendered glory and happiness by not pursuing a career in speed skating, but I don't think the Dutch will care.

DM

Irish Independent

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