The sporting year that was 2017

Edition 28 December 2017, by John Mahnen

There was a time when odd-numbered years, such as 2017, meant an off year for sports. Those times are distant memories in the age of everexpanding sporting calendars. The past year had so much sporting action on offer it makes one wonder how we fi t World Cups and Olympic Games into our sport diets. Here in the Netherlands, the Dutch enjoyed their fair share of success on the tracks, pitches and courts. The momentum of the Rio Summer Games did not fi zzle out and there was a bumper crop of medals, money and honor harvested by Dutch teams and individual athletes alike.

The Beautiful Game was front and center for much of the year in Holland – especially for the national teams – but is was the women’s team that set the nation in a frenzy, taking the European Championship on their own soil. Led by Lieke Martens, who would go on the be named FIFA’s footballer of the year, the Lionesses sent the Danish women packing (2-0) and gave the Oranje faithful something to celebrate. The women’s success was sorely needed this past year as the the men had very little to celebrate with a failure to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia. 2017 capped off an interesting season of professional soccer in the Netherlands. Rotterdam’s Feyenoord took the chocolates in the Eredivisie, winning the title for the fi rst time since 1999. While rivals Ajax Amsterdam had to settle for second on the table, their young side enjoyed a fairy tale run to the fi nals of the Europa League, eventually losing to juggernaut Manchester United (2-0) in Sweden. Perhaps the biggest surprise was a Cup win for Vitesse. The team from Arnhem took the prize from AZ Alkmaar (2-0) at the Cup Final held in De Kuip in Rotterdam.

The success of the Dutch sporting women was not limited to the football pitch in the past year. Sprinter Dafne Schippers burned up the track in London during the World Championship. She had to settle for Bronze in the 100-meter event but edged out Marie-Josée Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast in the 200 taking the Gold. Lady luck was also present at the World Championships of Road Cycling in Bergen, Norway. Annemiek van Vleuten won gold in the individual time trial and a surprise win for Chantal Baak saw her take the honors in the Road Race. Tom Dumoulin established himself as the world’s best time trialer, winning the men’s ITT. The World Championship for Dumoulin was icing on the cake in a year that saw him fi nish in Milan with the pink winner’s jersey in the 100th running of the Giro d’Italia.

Perhaps no individual on the Dutch sports scene caused as much furor as race car driver Max Verstappen. Max whipped Holland into a right Formula One frenzy with wins in both Malaysia and Mexico among his four podium appearances. Hopefully, young Max will develop some class in 2018 and fi nd better terms to describe race stewards. No look back at the Dutch sporting year would be complete without the highlights from the fi eld hockey pitches and speed skating ovals. Both the men’s and women’s national hockey teams did not disappoint in the European Championships hosted in Amstelveen. Both teams beat a common opponent with the men beating Belgium 4-2 and the women winning from the southern neighbors by a 3-0 tally. The club competition saw Kampong Utrecht beat Rotterdam for the men’s title while the ladies’ trophy was carried off by Den Bosch at the expense of the Amsterdam Hockey and Bandy Club.

The 2017 Speed Skating season continued success if not outright dominance once again for the Dutch. At the World Championship Single Distance in Gangneung, South Korea, no less than 15 medals were handed out to skaters from the Netherlands. Kjeld Nuis and Sven Kramer paced the men with two fi rst place fi nishes each and Irene Wüst took her place on the top step following the 3000 meter event. Holland’s Glory was also very much on display at the Allround Championships in Hamar, Norway. The men claimed all three podium steps with Sven Kramer, Patrick Roest and Jan Blockhuijsen standing tall for the Wilhelmus.

The Dutch Basketball season saw Donar Groningen defeat Landstede Zwolle for the national title and on the baseball diamond, it was Neptunus Rotterdam defeating the Amsterdam Pirates in the Holland Series. Neptunus also won the Europa Cup and will enter their 75th anniversary year in 2018 as the reigning Dutch and European Champions. Perhaps the least known sporting accomplishment in 2017 belongs to Anja Groot of Assendelft. She pulled enough fi sh from the waters in Sziget, Hungary to win the World Championship Sport Fishing! Even in this past non-Olympic, non-World Cup year, the Dutch athletic stars shined bright on the national and world-wide stage. While 2018 will offer the bitter memory of Dutch men’s soccer failure, the early going should be a treat for sports fans in the Netherlands as the Winter Olympic games unfold in South Korea. We may have to keep the belts loosened well into the new year to digest our sports diet.