News and background stories

Spot news

view:  full / summary

Muntjes, bandjes, and a whole lotta speed skating craziness

Posted by speedskating-online on December 12, 2011 at 4:40 AM

Written by Lisa Solbach, german speed skating fan

As you all know, Heerenveen is the speed skating Mecca for athletes and fans from all over the world but especially for the Dutch. This year I also wanted to be a part of the spectacle and so I decided to go to the World Cup in Heerenveen for one day.

Friday, 10 a.m.: time to leave. The Thialf still being 349 kilometers ahead of me and my dear friend Julia, I was already excited and looking forward to the races and the famous atmosphere at the oval. So we got into the car and drove almost four hours straight to Heerenveen. We found a neat parking lot right across the street and started walking the short distance to my personal pearly gates. We made it to the Thialf!

And then our troubles began… As we do not speak or understand Dutch except for a few words and sentences, I felt like being thrown in at the deep end. The very friendly ladies and gentlemen at the entrance told us something very important but I had to admit that we didn’t understand them. So they had to explain everything once again – this time in English. However, everything they said turned out to be bad news. First of all, our affectionately packed ‘care packages’ were cut in half as we had to throw away all our beverages. Secondly, we were not allowed to go back to the car to fetch the really good camera we had forgotten in the trunk. Too bad, we did not notice the missing camera until we had already taken our seats.

And we encountered the language barrier yet again! For example, we had to find out about where to buy ‘muntjes’, so that we would be able to buy something to eat and drink. I guess I pronounced it in the worst possible way when I asked a lovely lady behind one of the counters about those coins. She nevertheless understood what I meant and that is the main thing. Then there was this guy who started asking us about some ‘bandjes’ when we wanted to take a short cut to our seats. Of course, we didn’t have any bandjes yet and so we had to go back to where we had come from in order to pick up wristbands that finally enabled us to take our seats. Dank u wel!

We absorbed the great atmosphere and swam in the orange sea of Dutch speed skating fans and their fan gear. The Glasblazers and their music put everybody in a jolly mood and moving along to their tunes helped to stay warm. The atmosphere in the corners was especially great! Each time the athletes passed the corners, people started screaming, stomping their feed and clapping their hands. It was loud, it was crazy, it was fun!

Last weekend I fell in love with the Thialf in Heerenveen and I will return as soon as possible to cheer on my favorite athletes again!

"Who knows, some rookie might even be able to outrun one or two experienced skaters..."

Posted by speedskating-online on October 12, 2011 at 1:05 PM

Written by Lisa Solbach, german speed skating fan

Time flies… it really feels like yesterday that I cheered on the athletes at the WSDC in Inzell. But that happened seven months ago. Now it’s October and the new speed skating season finally is about to begin. However, I will sure miss watching Kristina Groves compete against the others on the ice. When I heard of her retirement I couldn’t believe it at first. But she achieved so much in professional sports and I’m sure she will enthusiastically apply herself to her new task – whatever that might be.

But there are many more questions to be asked at the beginning of this coming season. For example, will Christine Nesbitt defy the myth of the seven-year itch? The 2011/2012 season will be her 7th year on Canada’s national team and she has already achieved a lot! To name but a few of her successes, she is an Olympic gold medalist and 2010/2011 world champion in the 1500m. I believe that she will be able to prove the myth wrong and return to the rink as successful as always.

And what about Lucas Makowsky? In Inzell, he won his first individual medal at the WSDC in the 1500m race. It would be incredibly great to finally see him win a gold medal at the World All-round Championships in Moscow or the World Single Distances Championships in Heerenveen. I know he can do it and it’s about time he reaped the fruits of his labour, isn’t it?

There might also be some well-known duels again this winter. The world champion 2011/2012 in the 3000m and 5000m will probably either be Martina Sablikova or Stephanie Beckert again, since they were already pretty close during the last season. And then there is Shani Davis vs. Håvard Bøkko – Davis won the 1500m World Cup series but Bøkko defeated him at the WSDC and became world champion. It will be interesting and exciting to see whether those duels will take place again or if there will be new challengers.

I’m also wondering whether the most successful athletes of the past season will be as successful as last year and whether those who weren’t really on top of their performance level last season, will be able to do better this time. No matter what, I can’t wait to see all skaters give their best on the ice again. Seeing some new faces on the rinks is also something I’m looking forward to. Who knows, some rookie might even be able to outrun one or two experienced skaters…

It’s not like I don’t like summer but every year I look forward to the first snow and the skating rinks opening again, and without speed skating something is just missing. Watching the competitions on TV is great but there is nothing like being part of the entourage. Cheering on the athletes in a rink full of speed skating fans from all over the world is simply amazing and it never gets boring. That’s why I can’t wait to drive up to the Thialf in Heerenveen in December in order to experience a day full of fun, close races, tight skinsuits, and fingers crossed.

Good luck to all athletes and see you in Heerenveen for some speed skating action!

World Single Distances Championships in Inzell

Posted by speedskating-online on May 6, 2011 at 12:24 PM

Written by Lisa Solbach, german speed skating fan

Ever since I was a little girl my parents had taken me to Inzell and the famous skating rink for vacation. I used to watch Anni Friesinger and other world class athletes exercise while I was skating on the hockey rink of the open air arena. Therefore, I was pretty excited when I heard that they were going to tear down the old oval. And when it was finally settled that the World Single Distances Championships 2011 were to take place in the newly built Max-Aicher-Arena, I went completely out of my mind. I could not wait for the tickets to go on sale! But when I was finally able to plan my trip to Inzell, I only got tickets for the competitions on Friday, March 11. After initial disappointment I realized that it was still going to be an amazing week. After all, my personal speed skating dream would still come true because I had never been to World Championships before.

After an eight hour drive, I arrived in Inzell on Monday evening. First thing in the morning, I went to the new arena to see what it was like. I was overwhelmed and impressed with the extraordinary construction of the roof and the new skating rink, which is much faster than the old one. I even had the chance to watch the training of the Canadians and the Americans. This immediately put me into a “trance-like” condition – I'm always amazed by the skaters' elegance on the ice. Watching them really makes me forget everything else. From then on I went to the arena everyday just to see if I could catch a glimpse of what was going on inside. Most of the time I had to press my face against one of the windows, since I didn't have tickets for all competitions. But that was fun, too!

Another dream came true when the training was over. I met some athletes of my favourite team: Canada. Mathieu Giroux, Christine Nesbitt, Cindy Klassen, Lucas Makowsky, Shannon Rempel, Anastasia Bucsis and Muncef Ouardie signed my Canadian flag, which I had brought to Inzell as a mojo for the Canadian skaters. It really meant a lot to me to meet Lucas and Christine. They have been my favourite skaters for quite a long time now, so I was pretty excited to actually meet them. The fact that they are also successful Olympians only added to my nervousness.

During that week in Inzell I really enjoyed the vibrant and yet cozy atmosphere in town. No matter where you looked, there were athletes everywhere – on their bikes, running, shopping at the local supermarket or just enjoying the sun in one of the cafés. One time I was sitting outside the “Rathaus-Café” and suddenly I heard people speaking Dutch everywhere around me. Unfortunately, I did not understand what they were saying but they all seemed to be pretty excited. Two seconds later, I realized what they were talking about. Dutch speed skaters Annette Gerritsen and Margot Boer were taking a break from their training and had a cup of coffee. Some minutes later even more Dutch athletes were coming to the café. I would definitely enjoy having coffee next to three tables full of top athletes again!

Wednesday night was the time of the opening ceremony. The crowd cheered on the athletes from all over the world and welcomed ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta, who officially opened the 13th World Single Distances Championships. Thursday was to be the first day of competitions with the women's 3000 m and the men's 1500 m. With a track record of 4:01.56, Ireen Wüst raced to her first gold medal of that weekend. However, it was the men's race that really made my day. Lucas Makowsky won the bronze medal in a race he had dominated until the final pair. I always knew he could do it! But Håvard Bøkko and Shani Davis raced even faster and so it was Bøkko, who won the first gold medal of his career after a time of 1:45.04. I just wish I had been there to see this myself!

On Friday I was finally part of the audience inside the arena. Amidst a group of Norwegian speed skating fans I was the only one cheering for Canada but I sure spotted several supporters of the Maple Leaf on the other side of the rink. However, Friday did not prove to be a particularly good day for Team Canada. I felt sorry for Lucas, who wasn't nearly as successful as the day before. Unfortunately, something seemed to be going wrong – he only finished 21st in the 5000 m race. But I was confident that he would be successful again in the TP. Sadly, none of the other Canadian skaters made it on the podium, neither in the men's 1000 m nor in the women's 1500 m. Nevertheless, five Canadians achieved a top 10 result that day and I think this is also something they can be proud of. This team's closeness is just incredible.

After a break from speed skating on Saturday, I was stuck to the TV again on Sunday to watch the Team Pursuits. Wow! After watching Christine Nesbitt, Britanny Schussler and Cindy Klassen win gold for Canada I had to wait for the final pair of the men's TP to see whether the guys would be equally successful. This final race of the weekend was probably the closest I've ever seen! My eyes were fixated on the screen and I kept my fingers crossed. Well, I did not only cross my fingers – I held my breath and almost tore my flag because of the tension. I really wanted Lucas, Denny and Mathieu to win gold – just like they did in Vancouver. They were ahead of the Americans most of the time, so I was pretty confident they would win. In the end, their 2nd place was great and I was just as happy as if they had finished 1st. After all, it was the most gripping race of the entire weekend! 0.13 seconds – I guess that's less than the blink of an eye.

I really had a great time during that week in Inzell but it went by so quickly! All I can do now is wait and prepare for the next season – I'm already looking forward to returning to the oval to cheer on the best skaters in the whole wide world!

Click here for a video of the opening ceremony.

Quick look over here!

Posted by speedskating-online on January 10, 2010 at 11:23 AM


Written by Anastasia Bucsis, Canadian speed skater


I had a hard week of training, and I’m really happy about it. I started off with some starts, solid weights, and then transitioned into some quick aerobic intervals. On Wednesday I had one of the hardest practices I’ve had for probably three or four months: breakdowns. Now, for those of you that don’t know what a “breakdown” is, look no further than Winona Ryder, just know that they aren’t very fun.


It’s very likely that skating breakdowns (for a sprinter) is one of the most destructive and humbling programs known to our thunder thighs and central nervous systems. To give you a subtle hint, after skating my first (of two) breakdowns, I tried to put on my guards and ended up falling down like a newborn bambi because my legs had simply had enough. Under no circumstance did they want to hold me anymore. Ha. Just another Wednesday at the oval…


I then was granted a nice and relaxing Thursday in which I just had a ride and stretch. Friday was an abstract form of pre-race as my legs still didn’t want to cooperate from Wednesdays destruction and the ice (at 7AM) was looking more like the Calf Robe bridge at 4PM on Calgary’s first snow fall. (AKA, it was slow, sketchy, and scary.)


Read more on The Daily A-Buce

Calgary Essent ISU World Cup from the viewer's perspective

Posted by speedskating-online on December 8, 2009 at 12:30 PM

Written by Alexandra Ianculescu, Canadian speed skater



Good morning, guten tag, buna dimineata, ciao, привет, and salut.


It is the weekend of the World Cup here in Cow-Town. Exciting, can’t you tell? After all, I AM writing this at 6:45 am. I am sitting in the stands now, watching the athletes warm-up. I have tickets for the weekend, since I am not racing but I also have accreditation. Accreditation, or to be accredited- according to google, means to be given official approval to act upon entering the oval without any trouble. Not that there is any trouble in getting in…you’d just have to wait like 3 more hours ’till the door opened.


I am sitting in the stands that are set on the main running track. I’m facing the oval and all I see it the short track rink which has no mats around since they were taken off. The hockey rink’s boards are off, and the podium is on a mat that is placed on the ice. I see Germany, China, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands US and A, Belarus, Romania, Russia, Polska, Italia and China. And Norway. There are way more teams here than I mentioned above, but like I said, I haven’t looked around too much.


Click here to read more

World Cup # 2 - Heerenveen

Posted by speedskating-online on November 20, 2009 at 12:51 PM


Written by Mykola Makowsky, Canadian speed skater


Thialf is such a great oval. Thialf is like the Saddledome for speedskating. Thialf has capacity for about 10,000+ spectators and there are 3 restaurants/bars on the main concourse overlooking the oval. The dutch go crazy and make lots of noise for A group, especially when their own are racing. The atmosphere is something else, one of a kind.


I really liked the ice at Thialf, and I became very comfortable with it. It can be difficult to adapt to different ice surfaces: not every oval is the same. During the week I worked on some technical pointers that i noticed in video from races in Berlin, and felt very confident going into the weekend. Race prep on Wednesday went very well, so I was ready.


Read more on mmakowsky.blogspot.com

Bend, Oregon 2009

Posted by speedskating-online on August 21, 2009 at 4:20 AM

Written by Lucas Makowsky, Canadian speed skater


Instead of just recapping the camp like I did back in May, I decided this time around I’d pick a few of the days that stood out for me and write about them. I’ve still posted a bunch of the pictures that I took throughout the camp though, so to check those out just click on the link to the album at the bottom.


First up – low walks. Now the only reason I’m writing about our first low walk program of the camp is because of the damage it did to my legs! I know I’m not the only one who gets this but when I haven’t done low walks for a while then get right back into it, it’s almost a sure thing that my legs will be sore for a few days after. It’s not like I haven’t been training in basic position either because I’ve been on ice quite a bit during the weeks leading up to the camp. There’s just something about the loading you get in your quads from the low walks that makes them so effective.

You need Adobe Flash Player to view this content.

Read more on lucasmakowsky.com


Santa Cruz May 2009

Posted by speedskating-online on June 4, 2009 at 12:49 PM











 Written by Lucas Makowsky

Canadian speed skater



Thinking back to the past 9 days I spent in Santa Cruz, California, it never ceases to amaze me at how quickly training camps fly by. The training is no different than what we do at home, but just being away always seems to bring a renewed focus and intensity to each program I do. Other aspects of life are put on hold and for those 9 days every bit of focus and energy are consumed by the program. If I'm not training, eating, or resting, I'm simply trying to enjoy the weather and bits of scenery that nature has to offer.



We started off the camp with a nice 4hr aerobic ride along the coast on the Number 1 (Cabrillo Highway). Thinking it was going to be sunny and hot the moment we got to California, the morning coastal clouds proved otherwise. It's great staying within view of the ocean but until the sun has a chance to burn off the morning fog it can be quite cool. A few hours into the ride we made it to a small town called Pescadero, that had a great local bakery/grocery store. A sign standing by the door read "The Butcher, The Baker, The Sandwich Maker", a perfect place to stop for a hot coffee and a Bear-claw pastry... delicious! From there, we headed back towards Santa Cruz and it didn't take long for the sun to make its way through the coastal fog. I knew it was going to be a great camp!



Read more on lucasmakowsky.com

The Paper Bag President

Posted by speedskating-online on January 27, 2009 at 12:36 PM









Written by Beorn Nijenhuis

Dutch speed skater



With a wink and a wave my parents have flown to Rwanda. After a harrowing 24 hour marathon spent in four airports crisscrossing the continents of Europe and Africa they have arrived in Kigali. From all my mother was able to tell me during my short phone conversation with her, their first impression was Rwanda is nothing like what they had expected. Yes, the heavy enveloping tropical heat was a given, but otherwise it's been one pleasant surprise after another.


Of course, the immediate and unassailable observation is that, for the next six months, they will be the almond chips in Africa's bowl of chocolate ice-cream. Standing out as they do in crowds, they are inevitably pointed out and called after with the title Muzungu, which stands simultaneously for white and wealthy. So far, my Muzungu parents have delighted in the vibrant colorful clothing flashing all around that crowded canvas of black faces.


One might expect a vibrant cacophony of sound to accompany the color, however they report that, besides an amazing concert of morning bird song, Kigali is strikingly quiet. Even with a whole airport full of newly arrived passengers, the halls whispered with a rustling silence. One wonders if this subdued atmosphere, so uncommon in the drumming, dancing and pulsing African culture, is a stillness born in the wake of genocide. Maybe somehow the wild terror of the recent mass-murder is answered now in an overdose of calm civility that, sometimes, verges on the downcast. It isn't difficult to imagine, when you remember that the Hutu and Tutsi must now coexist in peace beside each other, even when unpunished and untried rapists and murderers live within meters of their former victims? families. The willpower needed to maintain self-control in such circumstances is amazing, and a little stoic silence is the least you can allow them.


In any case, this stillness is not the only way that Rwanda has chosen the path of iron discipline and reform in the face of former chaos. The city of Kigali is cleaner and better organized than it has ever been, or my parents could have ever hoped for. Yes, there are a few forsaken patches where the new infrastructure has not yet touched the place, but those are more like tumors of poverty on an otherwise healthy body. Whether they are malignant and spreading, or malign growths receding in the face of progress, my parents are not yet sure.


Whatever the general prognosis, there are many glimmers of hope for this burgeoning African country and its surprisingly clean capital. The president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, who fashions himself as somewhat of an enlightened despot, has implemented some very interesting policies that some western cultures may think about emulating. As my parents have discovered, Rwanda is plastic-bag free. All people must provide their own bags when shopping, and they must all be biodegradable. The plague of polyethylene bags, that are normally a staple food for many growing garbage heaps all over the world, are banned in Rwanda. And why not? The amount of energy, pollution and environmental havoc that superfluous plastic causes our world is immense. We may fall back on the excuse that we in the West have learned to recycle our plastic, but like carbon credits, it seems to be more about buying peace of mind than buying a solution. The CO2 produced by the power plants that feed recycling factories may destroy our planet far more quickly than landfills full of Wall Mart bags. Much better to get rid of the entire concept of plastic bags to begin with, and that is exactly what this plucky little country has done.


Many question the political approach of Paul Kagame. Everyone knows Africa has had its fair share of corrupt, despotic, tyrannical and downright nasty leaders. There is, however, something to be said for a strong and steady force of leadership at the helm of a country still reeling from such an incredible explosion of bloody violence. Especially if that leader is democratically elected.


From what my parents have so far been able to report, Kigali is a pleasant surprise in far more ways than a disappointment, however as avid readers of the classics, including Conrad's Heart of Darkness and (for this article more pertinent) Lord of the Flies, they will withhold judgment on whether they believe these new glimmers of hope spell a definite sea change in the cultural mind of Rwanda. It remains a fascinating question for all of us; whether "the dark root of the scream", that so recently rallied a people to engage in such a brutal massacre, can ever be washed away along with the dirt in the newly cleaned streets of Kigali.

Ghettos of Insanity

Posted by speedskating-online on January 9, 2009 at 4:54 PM









Written by Beorn Nijenhuis

Dutch speed skater



I am not one for jumping to conclusions, but I suppose I have taken a couple of things for granted. Besides believers, I assumed that everyone thought witchcraft was a bad thing. But, the more I read, the more I am left with a nasty taste of tolerance in my mouth. So many hands seem to be reaching out from the rational western world to the supernatural side of the isle, to try and find a place for magic in society.


Let?s first get one thing straight, at its core our western world is not superstitious, but scientific. As one who began his reading career with The Hobbit and later The Lord of the Rings, and worked with savage speed through the far inferior but admittedly entertaining Harry Potter soap, I am not one to deny a little of what Christopher Hitchens calls "the numinous" in my life. But in our western society, these books are but the "trappings and the suits" of magic, and fit over a body that has reason and science flowing strongly through its veins. This is not serious magic, and in our society, that has its feet firmly planted on the shoulders of Locke, Hume, Voltaire and Jefferson, this is not a problem.


None of the foundational institutions of western society are intrinsically poisoned by the supernatural. Our public schools are not Madrassas, our healthcare system is not goaded by alternative medicine, our courts reject witchcraft and our governments are not religious dictatorships. And yet in this supposedly rational society 73 percent of young people profess belief in witchcraft or paranormal activity of some kind. How do we manage such a feat of schizophrenia? We believe that the supernatural is all around us, but that it never influences anything foundational in our life. Agriculture, biology and medicine all used to be dominated by the supernatural, but today we take it for granted that a farmer in need of water will install an irrigation system, instead of dawning a rain-dancing costume and going out to jump around in some field somewhere. The supernatural has been pushed back from these areas of human endeavor, but there are still many where it holds its ground fiercely. In those ghettos of ignorance, with their thick walls of tolerance and fear to protect them, hysteria reigns. Charlatans and hucksters abound there to make their millions with improvable claims and fake promises. Outside of these ghettos though, rationality keeps our planes flying and our fevers low. In the western world we keep our penchants for the supernatural safe and secluded, free from scrutiny, or the possibility of ruining the world.


It speaks to the arrogance of the West that we believe that all countries are cafeteria spiritualists like us, picking and choosing what they like, but ignoring anything that might cause society grief. The truth is that there are still many cultures that define themselves almost completely in supernatural terms. In these countries, where magic goes far deeper then a daily horoscope, supernatural belief can be hugely destructive.


So often we fail to see the danger for what it really is. When we look at the sorry Aboriginals of Papua New Guinea, who stand entranced upon the tops of mountains waiting for their god to finally come down and bless them, we say ?Oh how culturally enriching.? These people have no contact with the western world and believe that the 12 o'clock cargo flight from Sydney to Bangkok is a god. They erect make-shift landing strips and wooden effigies of planes to attract the Cargo God. Just imagine the waste of human resources and energy that this obvious misunderstanding has caused these poor people. And what is the multiculturalists? ethic when faced with this theological embarrassment? Not to interfere, but instead to let them practice their religion and above all respect and tolerate it. What an arrogant and elitist approach this is. These people, who under other circumstances are equally capable of joining the international community, are left in abject intellectual poverty in order to please our twisted goals of cultural relativism.


In the same vein of tolerance-gone-wrong, we all do our best to respect and tolerate the deeply held traditions of African witchcraft. Here again we try to find a silver lining to this dark cloud. The truth of the matter is that they are equally great wastes of time. Although witchcraft has more subscribers than the Cargo Cult, both beliefs are equally silly. There are no love potions and there are no elixirs that improve virility just like there is no silver god of cargo flying overhead. But instead of trying to fight for more reason and rationality amongst all this hocus-pocus, we find ourselves trying to incorporate all this "richness of religious diversity" into our lives.


How can we? How can we make such a monumental error of judgment? I am not talking about the unfortunate but harmless example of the New Guinean Cargo Cult tribes. This is not about a simple waste of time and energy. I'm talking about 15.000 innocent Nigerian children slaughtered because we want to uphold the myth that one can believe in abjectly false and irrational things and not suffer the consequences. A society cannot believe in witches and not kill innocent people for the crime of witchcraft. In Nigeria?s case it was innocent children. How can we allow a government to sanction irrational myths, when it puts the people of that country at such infinite risk?


Zimbabwe recently relinquished its ban on witchcraft. It's a fitting symbol. In the collapsing scenery of a once prosperous country, the last and most horrible thing to collapse is a country?s relationship with reason. When that goes, we open the floodgates of hell. The horror of heretics being burned at the stake, witches drown in rivers, children being led to slaughter by their own parents; this is the horror of a society governed by magic.


Compared to the new hell being created in Zimbabwe, our problems with superstition seem small. But with government policies regarding stem cell research still the victim of Christian superstitions, and Armageddon paranoia getting serious attention from the White House, we must admit that much work is still ahead of us. But still, we must focus on the progress that we have made. Let?s celebrate this progress. It's time for a little more pride in the accomplishments of science and reason in the last 200 years.


One of my favorite futurists Michiu Kaku reflected on a question he is often asked: "What has science done for me lately?" Listing advancements in every field and every form of human infrastructure he went on to answer the question in one unequivocal word: "Everything."


This is a culture worth exporting. This is also a philosophy that is worthy to replace the backward, violent and useless cult of magic and superstition that reigns supreme in so much of African culture. Instead of practicing respectful tolerance for such pernicious and destructive superstitions, we should be doing all we can do to rout it out. The people deserve this. All African nations, held entranced by the terror and ignorance of superstition, need to be shaken free.


Shaken, as I would have shaken Isaac Newton every time he picked up those old alchemy books. Yes, even the smartest man in history was a victim of his own little compartmentalization of crazy superstitions. Who knows, had I gotten through to him, maybe the island of human knowledge in this ocean of ignorance would be a little bigger. At least it would have saved him a lot of wasted time. As it stands, there are plenty of other people who need a shake, so let's get shaking.


For a video on witchcraft in Africa, click here.