Dominant Dutch Speedskaters Continue Their Onslaught at Olympics

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Dominant Dutch Speedskaters Continue Their Onslaught at Olympics
Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
Dutch fans are easy to spot, since most wear their national color of orange

Holland's domination at Sochi's long-track speedskating oval has reached a level that's as ridiculous as the crazy orange hats the Dutch fans wear.

With a silver and a bronze in the women's 1,000 meters on Thursday, the Dutch have taken 12 of the 18 medals awarded through six races, including four golds.

That gives the tiny European nation more Olympic hardware than mighty Germany or host Russia, and also more medals than all of the Asian nations combined.

Climbing onto the podium for a second time Thursday were silver medalist Ireen Wust, who won gold in the 3,000, and Margot Boer, who added a second bronze to the one she copped in the 500.

Holland has a population of only 16.8 million, and a fair amount of its real estate is below sea level, but its speedskaters have been on an amazing rise in Sochi. They already have easily topped their seven-medal total that dominated the long-track oval at Vancouver in 2010, and Thursday's haul also pushed them past their national record of 11 Olympic medals, set at Nagano in 1998.

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Margot Boer is the first Dutch woman to medal at 500 meters in speedskating

Now, as the men's and women's 1,500-meter races approach this weekend, they're poised to become the winningest speedskating team in Olympic history. With two more medals they'll break the record 13 East Germany won at Calgary in 1988, which appears certain to happen.

The Dutch always have fielded powerhouse teams in their national sport, but what's stunning about their performance in Sochi is that they have found new ways to win.

Boer is the best example of that. She has seldom been a factor on the World Cup circuit but has medaled in both sprints, which traditionally have been the weakest events for Holland's men's and women's teams.

Holland had never before medaled in the women's 500, which has been part of the Games since 1960.

Likewise, the Dutch men's sweep of the 500 may well go down as the most astonishing team accomplishment in Sochi. No nation had ever swept the men's 500 before, and Holland had won only two previous medals at that distance, and none since 1988.

Holland also swept the men's 5,000 behind Sven Kramer's Olympic-record performance, and Wust's gold in the women's 3,000 continued the anticipated success in the distance events. But with this sudden takeover of the sprints, some competitors must be wondering whether the Dutch are going to own the remaining six races in Sochi.

They'll be favored for gold in both the men's and women's team pursuit events. Also, Koen Verweij figures to reach the podium in the men's 1,500, and Kramer could be part of another sweep in the 10,000, along with Jorrit Bergsma and veteran Bob de Jong.

On the women's side, Wust will enter the 1,500 favored to defend her gold medal, and Yvonne Nauta poses a strong threat in the 5,000.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Holland already owns the record for most speedskating medals in Olympic history with 94, and at these Games it has passed the U.S. for the all-time lead in golds with 32.

Why are the Dutch so good? Because virtually everyone in pancake-flat Holland skates. They hone their skills on frozen canals, and they know that winning an Olympic medal will elevate them to being national heroes for life.

As Kramer said at a press conference after winning the 5,000, "We are all born on either skates or the bike."

But what's interesting about Holland's dominance is that the Dutch don't stir resentment the way most sports dynasties do.

That's partly because it's tough to dislike a nation that rises to Winter Olympics prominence despite being so small. But it's also because without the Dutch, speedskating wouldn't be half as much fun.

They fuel the atmosphere at every Olympic oval, where spectators can't help but be immediately impressed by the ever-present throng of Dutch fans. They're easy to spot, wearing wild orange wigs and outfits that look like they were dispersed by Minute Maid's marketing department.

They're also easy to hear, as they clang cow bells throughout competitions, especially when one of their skaters is on pace to win a medal.

At every Olympics, they also bring along an Oompah band that performs during ice-cleaning breaks. It's called Kleintje Pils, which translates to "Small Beer."

But while the Dutch fans are known for traveling to every corner of the globe to watch their stars triumph, they're also recognized for being great sports who cheer anyone on blades who gives a maximum effort. 

They are to the Winter Olympics what samba-loving Brazilians are to the Summer Games, only it's a pretty safe bet the Dutch throw down a whole lot more Heineken.

Their favorite place to do that is the Holland House, a jovial watering hole that springs up somewhere on the Olympic landscape at every Games.

At the 2006 Olympics in Turin, the Holland House even had a skating rink in the middle of it. At the Holland House in Sochi, according to Dutch television network NOS (via Yahoo! Sports), Wust got a "cuddle" from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Another reason for speedskaters to love the Dutch is because Holland's corporations have long embraced the sport, and their support has included sponsoring foreign athletes.

Americans who have benefited from those deals include Shani Davis and now-retired gold medalist Chad Hedrick. Also, the now-defunct Dutch bank DSB once had an agreement that gave U.S. skaters $300,000 annually for four years.

For Americans, it also needs to be remembered that a Dutch coach laid the groundwork for a U.S. comeback in speedskating after the 1994 retirements of gold medalists Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen left the roster bare.

Gerard Kemkers became a key U.S. coach and guided the team through a rocky four years. Kemkers' biggest move was to welcome and groom inline skaters who wanted to make the transition from pavement to ice.

Many traditionalists in the U.S. speedskating community initially showed disdain for the inliners but eventually changed their minds when the likes of Derek Parra, Joey Cheek and Jennifer Rodriguez all went on to win multiple medals.

So appreciate the Dutch and think about adding some orange to your Olympic wardrobe, because there's always room for one more on their bandwagon.

 

Tom Weir has covered eight Winter Olympics as a columnist and reporter for USA Today. You can follow him on Twitter at @TomWeirSports.

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