The path to success is also a concern for the future, so foreign short track skaters are prohibited
Dutch short track skaters believe that their foreign colleagues being banned by the KNSB skating association is unwise. They believe they will improve thanks to daily training sessions with foreign skaters, as shown over the past twelve years. The Figure Skating Association feared increased competition and no longer wanted to work with foreigners after the next season.
Holland has made a big impression in recent years by working with foreign riders, notes Belgian short track Stijn Desmet. “Because we are now welcome everywhere.” After hearing about the new policy of the KNSB, the Belgian Confederation contacted several countries. This eventually led to a temporary collaboration with America and later Canada.
About the author
Lisette van der Geest is a sports reporter De Volkskrant He has written about Olympic sports such as skiing, tennis, judo, handball and sailing for over ten years.
When Jeroen Otter took over as national coach in 2010, the Dutch short course was not doing well at the international level. Otter collected nationalities, invited guest drivers, and made the relief more important. His philosophy: A higher level of breadth guarantees success.
Over the years, Belgians, South Koreans, Kazakhs, Germans, Russians, an Israeli and a Latvian have traveled to Thielef in Heerenveen to train with the Dutch. In some cases, they persist for several weeks to months. Others, like sister and brother Hanne and Stijn Desmet, have been staying for years – they’ve lived in Heerenveen since 2018.
The most successful short track country in the world
Otter’s approach worked. The Netherlands is now the most successful country in the women’s short track in the world. At the World Cup in March, national coach Nils Kerstolt, who has been in charge since 2022, saw all women’s titles go to the Netherlands. But technical director Remy de Witt is worried about the future. The number of Olympic medals in the Netherlands is declining. “We chose this in order to achieve Olympic success with TeamNL in the future as well,” he explained his decision on the federation’s website, schaatsen.nl.
Xandra Velzeboer, 21, who made her final World Cup debut thanks to her four-time gold medal, calls her teammates’ departure “unfortunate”. Riding her fastest competitors like Dutch Olympic champion Suzanne Scholting and Han Diesmet kept her strength from the moment she joined the team as a talent. “In the short track you need each other. Good teammates are very important there, you get stronger than each other.
When he overtook Stijn Desmet, Jens van ‘t Wout, the best short-track speed skater in the Netherlands at the moment, during the 1000m at the European Championships, he got a lot of questions. “What do you think of a foreign fellow who is superior to you?” The 21-year-old Van Woot shrugged. It may sound dubious, but he thinks: “Partly thanks to Stijn, I am now at this level.” He also expects the Canadians, the Olympic champions in the relay, to benefit greatly from the Belgians. vice versa.
Racing and overtaking maneuvers
When it comes to top speed, Stijn Desmet was the fastest of Kerstholt’s team during last year’s practice. Van ‘t Wout: So you always have someone to race behind, even when you’re tired. We have to challenge each other in a short course, keep hunting in training, and Stijn focused a lot. He made you good for the game. We have a strong team with Holland, and we haven’t lost now that they’re gone. But it’s a shame.
Not only do short track skaters benefit from high speed training; Just as with long track speed skating, better technical skating is also required at higher speeds. In addition, the sport is about overtaking maneuvers, about agility on the ice with sometimes six competitors a few square metres. National coach Kersholt wants to emulate this challenge as closely as possible during training sessions. In addition, skaters who leave their country for their sport often take a meaningful stance with them.
The offer of Dutch short track speed skating, especially among men, has increased in recent years. There is a growth of youth. “But our big players have to be challenged,” Kersholt says. Not from below, by short trackers that just came to watch. “You actually want to permanently motivate your best-performing husband and wife in your own environment.”
Kersholt asserts that it is not sacred for aliens to train with you. It is a factor of success, not a factor. For example, I can also send my best performing husband or wife out to motivate them. The new policy also challenges the national coach to come up with other solutions. “But training with foreigners was a simple and effective way to work at a high level.” Velzeboer says she regrets it when her teammates leave at a high level, regardless of their nationality.
The Belgians have paid the KNVB for facilities in recent years, including steering staff such as a physical man and a physiotherapist. With increasing success, the latter has raised questions within the Ski Association. Who gets priority when processing ski blades? Will a Dutch coach face the Netherlands national team with a number of his colleagues in the final match? Who gets to go to the physiotherapist first during a crowded competition weekend?
Kersholt: ‘It’s starting to bother you more and more. Choosing the Dutch is our primary goal. There should be no worries about that. Which is why I understand the choice that was made.
Never before has the training of foreigners been so successful as it is now. Hanne Desmet won bronze at the Olympic Games in Beijing a year ago, and last season she won gold at the same distance at the European Championships. Stijn Desmet won bronze at the World Cup twice last year and this year was good for silver in the fight for the world title. Kersholt: “This is also a new situation for us.”
The Belgians could stay in the Netherlands for another year, but with three years to go before the Olympics they now want to investigate whether they like it in North America. Desmet: “The unions could not agree on the arrangement for the next season.” Belgium wanted lower prices, with facilities such as training and material supply gone.
With the upcoming arrangement in North America, not two, but six Belgians will find shelter. Stijn Desmet: “This development may not be bad at all for Belgian short track speed skating.” In addition to two high-ranking teammates, Holland will also miss out on additional financial compensation next season. Desmet: “I don’t think they made it easy for themselves.”
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