|Posted on January 24, 2011 at 11:04 PM|
Yes, I love all speedskating events. As long as there are emotions, fast times and good competition, I love it. However, even I have some sort of extra love for a special event or special skater. From all World Championships, I think Sprint is my favorite, because there are 2 thousand meters involved and some of my favorite skaters are involved aswell.
Without a doubt, Jan Bos is my most favorite skater of all time. As a matter of fact, he is actually the main seed that grew my special interest in speedskating into a real passion. Some might even call it obsession. It was his performance in 1998, becoming the first Dutch World Sprint Champion in history of speedskating, that got me interested in a way, I could have never imagined.
Because he won gold in 1998 in Berlin, I wanted to read everything there was to read about speedskating. And there was a whole lot, as in 1998 there were also the Nagano Winter Olympics. These Olympics put extra oil on the fire of my passion and before I knew it, I was completly hooked. After the great successes of Marianne Timmer and Gianne Romme in Nagano, and the silver medal with the golden lining of Jan Bos, I expanded my horizon and also got interested in other skaters and distances and events.
Jan Bos, earlier this season in Berlin
I'm very fortunate to live in Holland, the country with the biggest and widest media attention for such a small sport. From October till deep into March, there's always something to read or watch about speedskating. It took me a few years to discover, I could also travel to differant events and after my first trip to Thialf, many more followed, resulting in a long list of ice rinks and places in Europe I've visited for the sole purpose of speedskating.
Therefor, my direct environment was baffled to discover I was not going to the World Sprint in Heerenveen. "Why not?" was the most common response, but my mind was made up. The reason is very simple: the ticket prices are sky high and I just find a ticket to Thialf getting too expensive. There is the standard ticketfee, travelling cost (I live 200 km from Heerenveen), parking fee, overnight hotel etc.etc. It's just getting too much for a normal weekend and it's also getting a matter of principle. Euro 37.50 for a place in the crowd doesn't come with a seat, or a secure spot at the icerink. Numerous times I had to fight for my place in the crowd and my health is not good enough at the moment to endure all of that.
So, last friday I was finished with another exam, after having a dreadfull week of applying for jobs and felt a little emotional drained from it all. I was looking forward to a nice quiet weekend on the couch, watching the skating on tv, chatting via twitter or forum about the events and just kick back and relax. I saw some messages about people getting ready to go to Heerenveen or were already there, which made me a little bit jealous, but I had made my decision and I had to stick with it. On my way home from the exam (which I passed, yea!) I was a little bit bored and send out a tweet to the world.
It was in dutch, but it said something like this:
"passed the exam, the weekend can start. Watching the world sprints, not live but at home #ticketstooexpensive"
That was all I tweeted into the world, and when I checked back a little bit later, I had a message from somebody I didn't even know, saying I could have his ticket for sunday. At first I was a little bit suspicious, as I'd think he wanted to sell me a ticket for two times the ticket price, as has been seen on the internet a lot. But after tweeting a little bit and some direct messages, I had a ticket for sunday! How amazing is that!?
For the remainder of the friday I was just baffled by such selfishness and genuine kindness from a stranger, but during the saturday I was getting more and more excited. Especially after seeing a jampacked Thialf stadium on tv and watching some amazing races by especially Christine Nesbitt. I think my jaw dropped seeing her skate in the 1.000m and just demolishing all of her competition with a new trackrecord. It also helped that the men event was also very excited and differances after two distances were close.
I switched from tv to internet after the races were finished, because they broadcasted online the farewell to Marianne Timmer in Thialf. 3 times Olympic Gold medalist and first and untill now only Dutch woman to become World Champion Sprint, 2 times World Champion in the 1.000m and a dozen National titles, trackrecords and world cup medals, she had her official good bye in Thialf. After the Dutch Sprint competition, she decided it was time for her to stop her career as a top athlete. A very sad moment, but it was bound to happen some day. Sitting behind my laptop, I cryed my eyes out. I can't help myself but all those amazing images of her career just make the tears drop from the corners of my eyes.
I was drawn back to the real world quickly, as I still had to make some preparations for sunday, run to the grocery store and try to find my flag, which I wanted to take with me to Thialf. Luckily I managed everything in time and was able to hang my Canadian flag on the boarding in Thialf.
Most of the Canadian skaters have signed it and as you might be able to see, the signature of Christine Nesbitt has a prominent place. She was the first to sign it, so she had plenty of space to choose as it was empty back then.
A little bit releaved, we managed to get first row, it was finally time to kick back and relax and enjoy the skating. And I did. Maybe it was because I didn't count on going anymore and it was such a surprise that I was able to go after all. Or it was just the fact that it was a really nice tournament with great results and high and lows, I don't know, but it was special again.
We saw the 500m events where surprisingly Nesbitt managed to grab a spot on the podium, getting an even firmer grip on the world title or the Japanese skater Ota, who skated to 35.04 and celebrated with the whole of Thialf as if he was a dutch skater who just won Olympic gold in his home town. And of course, there was the new trackrecord for Kyou-Hyuk Lee. The airpressure in Thialf was really high, so nobody expected anything special, but Lee set the trackrecord to 34.77 which also gave him a nice lead for the overall classification. During the icebreak, there was a weird message, that Stefan Groothuis got disqualified putting everybody into a mood of disbelief, as we in the crowd did not know why or what was going on.
Somewhere later that day, the DQ was reversed, making me even more eager to watch some videos at home to see what was going on, but at that moment, the only thing which mattered was, we had the 1.000m still to come and everybody would still be there. The ladies event was very excited if you're in an arena with 15.000 people dressed in orange and shouting for the dutch skaters. Dutch girl Annette Gerritsen defended a 0.02 second lead against her teammate Margot Boer, as they raced against each other. It wasn't pretty, but it was excited! Especially because they ranked the exact same time. In normall world cup situation enough to split the spot on the podium, but as this is a tournament and Gerritsen had 2 hundreths of a second lead, she was cheering.
The next race was still excited. There was nobody doubting Nesbitt would claim her first World Sprint title, but would she do it in again a fabulous time ranking? Or would Dutch girl Ireen Wust take the gold in at least this distance? But, I guess the biggest question on everybodies mind was: Will Jenny Wolf keep it together and stay ahead of Gerritsen? Resulting in a bronze for Gerritsen and a 4th place for Boer?? The speaker announced what time Jenny Wolf had to skate in order for Gerritsen and Boer to be on the podium and you could just hear the clock go "tick-tack" after Nesbitt crossed the finish line. Tick-tack... no Wolf yet, tick-tack still no Wolf. Once the clock stopped a roar rolled through the Thialf, as it was clear Margot Boer was also on the podium. I thought this was a little bit mean of the crowd, as Nesbitt deserved to get the biggest cheer and it's never positive to cheer for somebodies losing time, but I guess there is still loads of Nationalism left in the orange crowd if it comes to skating.
Christine Nesbitt is celebrating, in the background Jenny Wolf
Once the times were added, and not only Nesbitt, but also Gerritsen and Boer had their victory lap, it was time for the grand finale. Would Kyou-Hyuk Lee win his 4th Sprint Title? Or would Shani Davis swoop the gold away with a magical 1.000m? Or could Stefan Groothuis still make a move, after the withdrawal of the DQ? Or would runner up Mo do something surprising? Who could tell, there was only one thing we could do: just sit back and relax...
The past seasons, we have had quit a few good-byes in Thialf of some great Dutch skaters. Rintje Ritsma, Gerard van Velde, Jochem Uytehage, recently Erben Wennemars, Carl Verheijen and Renate Groenewold and the day before the farewell of Marianne Timmer. These have all been anticipated and arranged by the KNSB during an event in Thialf. Nevertheless, they cannot manage what the crowd does, so after Jan Bos was finished skating his 1.000m the whole crowd just started to cheer and everybody just kept on going and going ... and going.. "Heia Jan Bos, Heia Jan Bos...Heia Heia Heia Jan Bos."
It had a ring to it and it's easy on the ears, but everybody just kept on going and going. Needless to say, I ran out of tissues...
Video clip of Thialf singing "Heia Jan Bos"
Even after everybody got silent for the start of the next pair in the 1.000m, the whole Thialf just started over again during the race. And this wasn't even his last race! He will still race in Moscow and World cup Final in Thialf and I sure hope to see him race in Inzell for the World Championships, but I guess there is nothing more touching and moving, as a sincere spontanious tribute. I made a small video of the noise in the stadium.
Ater all this, races continued of course, so before we knew it, it was time for the grand finale.Stefan Groothuis managed to skate a very decent 1.000m, giving him the lead in the 1.000m at that moment, but Tae-Bum Mo managed to stay ahead of him in the overall classification. But then it was time for the final pair, Shani Davis vs Kyou-Hyuk Lee. Davis won the 1.000m and Lee skated well enough to maintain the lead in the overall ranking, but it took some time and procession before everything was 100% clear. To see the expression on the skaters faces, when they realize they did or did not manage their position is priceless for me. That's passion!
Kyou-Hyuk Lee, 4 times World Champion Sprint
So, after all the skaters had skated their races, the horses came on the ice. Two sleighs were drawn by two gorgeous Friesian horses which gives a championship title a little something extra. They were pacing up and down the straight during the medal ceremony and it was really nice to hear the national anthems of Canada for Nesbitt and Korea for Lee. But of course, the moment everybody was waiting for, was when the athletes got in the sleigh and were drawn around the oval. I think pictures say more than words in this matter.
The two sleighs with the horses
Firing on the crowd
Nesbitt her flowers
And then.. it was really over. Being chased away by security, we were the last ones to leave the oval, leaving the rink empty and for the first time that day I was cold. Driving back home, we ended up in a traffic jam, but for me it didn't really matter, as I had an unexspected wonderfull day. With special thanks to the person from Twitter, who offered me his ticket. Peter Thank you!!