World sprint speed skating championships Heerenveen

Edition 1 February 2019, by John Mahnen

Life in the fast lane!

Heerenveen For the non-Dutch, skating is an acquired taste a bit like pea soup and just like waiting for the peas to blossom in the boiling pot, some of the longer numbers like the 10,000 meters can try the patience of an an unfamiliar audience. So, if life in the fast lane is more your style, you’re in for treat this skating season. In the weekend of 23 and 24 February, the Frisian skating Walhalla known as Thialf will host the World Sprint Speed Skating Championships. The annual championships, organised by the International Skating Union (ISU) are held over a two-day period, with the skaters contesting one 500 and one 1,000 meter race each day. While a 10k heat can take some 13 minutes, you’ll barely finish one bite of snert in the time the lycra-packed athletes complete the 500.

Since the higher speeds towards the end of the race tend to favor the skater who skates the last outer lane, each skater starts both distances once in the inner lane and once in the outer lane. The times on those distances are then converted to points using the samalog system, and the skaters are then ranked according to the least amount of points. The International Skating Union has organised the World Sprint Championships for Men and the World Sprint Championships for Women since 1970 and both are held at the same time and venue. The first two years (1970-1971), they were called the ISU Sprint Championships. They have been held 8 times earlier in The Netherlands, 6 of which were hosted in Heerenveen.

The Dutch men have collected a total of six gold medals: Erben Wennemars (2004, 2005), Stefan Groothuis (2012), Michel Mulder (2013,2014) and Kai Verbij in 2017. The winner in 2018 on the oval in Changchun, China was the Norwegian speed merchant Håvard Holmefjord Lorentzen who finished ahead of Dutchmen Kjeld Nuis and Kai Verbij. At the recent European Championships in Collabo, Italy, Kai Verbij survived numerous challenges to finish first just ahead of Lorentzen. The first 1000-meter race proved daunting to the other Dutch men in the championship. Newcomer Thomas Krol crashed out of the race and ended the weekend in 10th. The result for Kjeld Nuis was far worse. A skate over the lane line meant that Nuis had disqualified himself, something he found rather upsetting when informed by compatriot and referee Berri de Jonge. Together with his training staff, Nuis confronted de Jonge and demanded to see the video supporting the DQ. When the ISU official refused, Nuis grabbed him by the arm and continued an infantile rant. Nuis would apologize the following day for his emotional outburst only after it was painfully clear that he had in fact cut a corner. His asinine performance aside, he also left Italy without an automatic qualification for the World Championships.

The Dutch women have not harvested as much gold as the men at the world sprint championships. Only Marianne Timmer (2004) and Jorien ter Moors (2018) have stood on the top step during the medal ceremony. For Ter Moors, 2018 marked an improvement on her third tier finished of 2016 and 2017. Ter Moors, also an accomplished short tracker, was unavailable to defend her world title in Italy following knee surgery which has seen her sidelined in this current skating season. It was the Austrian Vanessa Herzog who kept her Russian rivals at bay with a superb second 500m to take the women’s European Sprint title in picturesque Collalbo. Daria Kachanova of Russia secured silver, beating the 13-yearold track record in the 1000m on the way, while her compatriot Olga Fatkulina took the overall bronze. The 20-year-old Jutta Leerdam managed a very respectable fourth place to lead the Dutch women’s contingent including Sanneke de Neeling in fifth and Letitia de Jong in sixth.

Long story short, the action in Heerenveen will be fast and very likely furious especially if Kjeld Nuis manages a spot on the ice. He’ll certainly have plenty to prove and will be looking to show up fellow countryman Verbij. The two have demonstrated no love lost and Verbij will have to prove that he won in Italy notwithstanding the early exit of his hothead competitor. In the women’s competition, all eyes will be on the young lady from Westland, Jutta Leerdam. She’s been garnering plenty of eyeballs on Instagram and Thialf just might be the place where she makes her debut on the world podium. More information is available at: thialf.nl/evenementen.