There is hardly any competition in Hamar for Dutch skiers

There is hardly any competition in Hamar for Dutch skiers

Jutta Leerdam’s eyes rose at an angle for a moment, and she shrugged briefly. A NOS reporter has just reported to the new Dutch sprint champion that the European Championships in Hamar, Norway, which started on Friday, will not be exciting due to the lack of competition for the Dutch. “We’ll see, I have to drive really well next week,” Leerdam says diplomatically, but the silence she drops for a moment before says too much.

NK’s No. 2, Femke Kok, is more outspoken for the cameras. “Unfortunately, the Russians are not there, and it is a pity for heroism.” Does this mean that a European medal will impress her in Norway? “Yeah, I definitely would,” Cook says excitedly.

The reactions of the two best Dutch short-distance skiers say a lot, if not everything, about the state of the European All-Around events taking place this weekend in Vikings Skept take place. Not only sprinters will participate, but also the all-around, and Dutch champions Patrick Roest, Antoinette Ribma de Jong (all-around), Hein Otterspier and Leerdam (sprint) are expected to have a good chance of winning. European surnames.

There is hardly any competition: Russia does not participate due to the suspension of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and apart from a few Norwegian skiers, few others come close to the level of the Dutch. “The peak in skiing is very narrow, and it’s not a secret. So the European Championship is a kind of glory NK, ”says world sprint champion Thomas Kroll, who could not qualify for this European Championship at the national championships. “The Dutch championship is a level higher than this championship.”

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Puzzling World Cup

The real competition is in Asia (Japan, China) and North America (USA and Canada), but the Dutch can’t compete with them in the all-around championships this year. This is the result of a decision in 2018 by the International Skating Union (ISU) to hold only one World Cup per season of the 2020/2021 season, instead of the three that had been staged annually until then. This year it is the turn of the world championship distances, in March in Heerenveen, in 2024 the world championship race and all the rounds are shown in the programme, etc. For the European Championships, it’s a completely different matter.

Many countries have found it confusing, says Doi de Vries, former great skier and current vice-chairman of the Athletes’ Committee at ISU, with three World Cups each season. “Other winter sports don’t have that. The problem with skiing is that you don’t just add those championships together. If you do that, you’ll eliminate the sprint and all-around, because individual distances, which have Olympic status, will always take precedence.”

Therefore, the ISU members decided, despite the dissenting vote from the Netherlands, to organize a medley world cup. “It’s a pity we can’t compete for the world title,” says Patrick Roest, three-time world champion in the all-around and second last year behind Swede Nils van der Pol. “The World Overall Championships is our oldest championship in skiing. Now that it’s no longer held every year, you can no longer put the performance in historical perspective.” According to Rust, both the skaters and the audience are the losers in the ISU decision. “The European Championship has a less pleasant field for the participants, and therefore less interesting for the spectators.” He’s hoping for full stands this weekend, but games at Hamar are far from over.

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In Norway too, yearly changing title tournaments are viewed critically, says Bjarne Reckje, national coach of the Norwegian national team all-around. “Our skiers would rather ride the World Cup than the European Championships. The World All-Around Championships are very important in Norway, and its history goes back to the time when skiing was the biggest sport in this country.” According to Rikji, the need for comprehensive training or mastering two distances in sprinting would disappear if there were no world title fights in the program every year. “Skaters now have to alternate specializing in loose and all-around distances. This is not conducive to par.”

blank calendar

The cancellation of several annual European and World Championships has also resulted in a blank calendar. Until the World Championships date in March, Thomas Kroll still has NK distances and two World Cup competitions in Poland, all in February. Moreover, it is easy in the international competition. “I’m going to take the next three weeks to train hard,” Kroll says, “and that could be an advantage.” “But I prefer racing. And then we have our national championships, selection matches and the European Championships. For countries outside Europe, there is a big gap between December and February of this year.”

It’s a huge contrast from nearly ten years ago, when skaters and coaches like Erin Wust and Gelert Anima complained about too much competition in their eyes. “It’s really ridiculous,” West said of the 2014-15 season about a program that has led her to consecutive all-around National Championships, the European All-Around Championships, the National Championships sprint, an additional qualifying tournament, and then a series of World Cups. , world championship distances and finally the world overall championship. She decided to skip the Sprint World Cup that year, just as Anima chose not to send her skaters to a number of World Cup competitions.

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The athlete’s representative Doi de Vries says the competition calendar is now very empty. He describes the lack of international competition as detrimental to skiing. “In two winter months, you rarely have any competition as a winter sport. That’s not good. You have to be visible to fans and sponsors.”

De Vries says it remains a great mystery that fits all matches. “I think it would be good to do more World Cup competitions and give that competition more prestige. And to organize an annual world championship for fighting for all-around and sprinting as well as world championship distances, which you don’t call world championships – if it helps get approval from ISU members. I will immediately exchange that for a European Championship.”

Please cancel those European leagues as soon as possible, says Thomas Kroll. “Preferably today. And don’t touch the World Cup and their history anymore, it’s bad for the image of the sport.” The Dutch are not very hopeful that their claim will have an impact. “I don’t think anything will change in the short term,” says Patrick Roest. “The only thing we can do is talk about it , but I find it hard to believe that the ISU would do anything about it. They didn’t do that in 2018 either.”

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