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The Lion, the Witch, and the Will to Change

Posted by speedskating-online on December 18, 2008 at 12:55 PM








Written by Beorn Nijenhuis

Dutch speed skater


The sheer momentum behind the freight train of suffering that is roaring across the continent of Africa is absolutely breathtaking. When faced with so many different reincarnations of Hell, it's understandable that we might throw our hands up in despair and surrender. But we can't do this. Whether it is the child armies in Liberia, genocide in Darfur, cholera in Zimbabwe, AIDS over the entire continent and, if that wasn't enough, the new explosion of bloody violence in the Congo, whether we focus on any one of these nightmares directly, or we stand prostrate before the general hell of it all, one thing does not change: we have to do something. 


For thousands of years the western world lived under the yoke of monarchical dictators, before the enlightenment philosophies of individual freedom set us free. This tradition of freedom, loosed upon the world by the minds of Voltaire and Locke and later the inspiration for the creation of the first modern democracy, must be infused into the common consciousness of Africa. In short, Africa needs a new enlightenment. There needs to be a disbanding of old ethnic and familial loyalties and an introduction of new systems of values. The entrenched and coveted ways of thinking have to be smashed through, but for this to happen, the people of Africa must be empowered with one thing and one thing alone: knowledge. 


This is why my parents? decision to spend six months teaching the youth of Rwanda will prove to be the most powerful gift they have ever made to our world. The chance they have to change that country by inspiring its youngest members may eclipse any other strategy to improve Africa's future, even when compared to Bill Gates? billions. 


So far, one intellectual and philosophical revolution has succeeded in Africa. This was a religious one. The missionary work of Christian churches ranging from Evangelical Christians to Mormons has succeeded, with their tax-free millions, to evangelize great tracts of the continent. Countries like Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi are all majority Christian nations. And yet, regardless of this spiritual revolution in Africa, little has changed. Although many church funded programs do positive things in Africa, they could be causing more evil than good. 


Bishops, and other even higher ranking Catholic officials, are suspected of being involved in the genocide that slaughtered countless Tutsis at the hands of machete wielding Hutu murderers. Partly, the Hutus justified their superiority on religious grounds. Human Rights Watch has done multiple studies on this; for more information read Christopher Hitchens? book God is Not Great. In Nigeria a horrible mutant form of Christianity born of a mix of the bible and older animist traditions has lead to the mass torture and murder of tens of thousands of innocent children by none other than their own loved ones. These children?s crime: witchcraft. Children as young as three years old are thrown over camp fires to burn or sliced and butchered with machetes by those who are supposed to protect them. This may seem impossibly violent and cruel, but anything is possible as long as one believes. And all this under the flag of ?our gentle Jesus meek and mild.?


It seems then, that a philosophical intervention is just as dubious and destructive as any other strategy the West has entertained in reforming Africa. Does this mean a revolution in thinking has been tried and revealed as a dead end?




What does one expect to happen when one bases a social and philosophical revolution on a book written 2000 years ago in the barbarous Middle East by desert dwelling Jews who, among other things, forbid eating shellfish and condone stoning your wife and owning slaves? The bible is, by no stretch of the imagination, the best book to base a philosophical and social revolution on. Until the enlightenment has been given equal face time to evangelize Africa with the ideals of Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant, Locke, Jefferson and many more, I believe we have not yet seen an Africa that has been given a fair chance to reinvent itself in the image of an enlightened state. We've exported food, we've exported money, we've exported guns and we've exported religion to Africa. Now it's time to export ideas, and not just any ideas, but the ideas that are the bedrock of the greatest accomplishments of mankind. 


I know my dad won't be able to fly with all the books he might wish to bring to the students of Rwanda. Luckily he has a laptop... and hopefully they will be sufficiently entranced by what he can show them with it, that they won't try to steal it, while they learn.


Photo credits: DESGphoto/Lars Hagen

Into Africa

Posted by speedskating-online on December 13, 2008 at 5:59 AM








Written by Beorn Nijenhuis

Dutch speed skater


My parents have been educators for nigh on 4 decades. In that time they have touched the lives of thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, and inspired, taught, but most importantly empowered them. Empowered them to use their energy and their ambitions to change the world. Enlightened them to the possibility that a small nudge upon the side of this ship of humanity might change our course in the distant future immensely. My parents changed the minds of an entire generation of children where they lived, and in doing so changed the future.


And although they have left a considerable mark on the planet through their teaching, I don't think it can compare with what they are about to do. As members of VSO (Volunteer Services Overseas) they are going to embark on a journey to the heart of Africa, to encourage change and prosperity through the spread of knowledge. Their destination is Butare, in Rwanda, where they will teach the poorest and most destitute children and hopefully open a window into a new world for them. By inspiring the youth of these countries to realize the possibility for change, they might create the last best hope to end the suffering that has overcome so much of the continent.

Being busy with the task of changing the world for the better, as their son, I have taken it upon myself to document their adventure. As well as sharing my own views on the situation, I hope to write about my parents? perspectives and experiences as they teach children in one of the most forsaken and desperate corners of the world.


For more information, make sure to take a look at the Facebook group 'Into Africa ? The Nijenhuis Blog'.



Photo credits: DESGphoto/Lars Hagen

World Single Distances Championships

Posted by speedskating-online on March 13, 2008 at 2:55 PM







Written by Naomi

Dutch speed skating fan


After a week of well-deserved rest and recovery time much needed after the World Cup Final in Heerenveen, it was time for the last competition of the season. And what a competition it was. Four days of speed skating!


The WSDC took place in Nagano, Japan, making it a bit more difficult for me to fly over there and attend it myself. After all, there is more in life than speed skating. But since these were the last races of the season, I didn?t want to miss anything. And luckily I didn?t have to. Thanks to the great people of the NOS (Dutch television), I was able to see everything, from start to finish and beyond. And? live!


It did mean I had to get up in the middle of the night to watch the skating, but I actually enjoyed it a lot. It?s rather special to go to bed early; setting the alarm clock, knowing you will get up the other day at an insane hour and not even mind. And that?s exactly what happened. Those four days my alarm went of at 5.45 am or even 3.15 am. All those times I didn?t have any trouble getting out of bed, and just when I switched my television on, the tune of Studio Sport woke me up.


I installed myself with a cup of tea on the couch, curled up in a blanket and had my laptop within reach. Because it?s not only watching the skating, but also during the cleaning of the ice, talking about it on a skating forum. And when you think I am the only one in Holland who does this, you are more than wrong. Actually, it was quite busy on the internet and it?s nice to know you are not alone.


Day 1 and 2 were interesting, but missed that little extra for me. My favourites would only race in the weekend. But nevertheless I watched it all. And then at 9 or 6 o?clock, when the skating was over, I returned to normal everyday life.


On Saturday the 1000m for men was on the program and I had been looking forward to this the entire week. This was it. The Dutch guys didn?t really make a good impression and I was quite disappointed that the ice wasn?t as good as we all had hoped for. The old track records were not smashed like expected, but just improved with a small difference. I watched the last pair of the 1000m biting my fingernails. Unfortunately, my personal favourite, Denny Morrison, didn?t do as well as I had hoped for, and he finished third. I was happy that he made the podium, but he had been either second or first the entire season, so being third was a bit of a disappointment.


I didn?t have much time to sob over it, because I had to go to my new home to do some work there and my helpers were waiting for me. The entire Saturday I didn?t think about speed skating. The only thing on my mind was painting, putting up wallpaper and more stuff like that. Luckily everything went so smooth and quickly, we were finished by the end of the day. I returned home, more than exhausted.


I went to bed that night, contemplating to miss out on the first distance the next day and just sleep a little bit longer. But sometime during the night I decided to wake up early and just watch it all. It was the last day of competition of the season; I would be able to recover from it for the next six months. So, at 5.45 am on a nice Sunday morning I tuned in.


First the 1000m ladies, which was won by top favourite Anni Friesinger. I think this wasn?t a surprise for no-one and I more or less expected Shani Davis to do the same in the 1500m. He had been the best in many 1500m?s this season and he always seemed to be able to win, whomever he had to beat. In the ninth pair my favourite had to skate against Dutchman Sven Kramer. He is absolutely the undisputed champion in the longer distances, and he can also skate a very good 1500m. But I just don?t want him to win the 1500m. If he would do so, he would get even more media attention and in my opinion get even more arrogant. So, him being paired with Denny Morrison made me wish even harder for Morrison to at least beat Sven Kramer.


During the race, I was at the edge of my couch, biting in my sweater to prevent myself from screaming and waking up the rest of the house. I saw Morrison get in the slipstream of Kramer twice at the cross-over. It just looked really well and I couldn?t believe they skated such a good time. But my main focus was on the fact that whatever would happen, Sven wouldn?t be the champion. I was so relieved!! And of course very happy with the time set by Morrison.

But after their pair, Shani Davis had to race. The opener was more or less the same as Morrison?s, but Davis? first lap was 2 tenth of a second faster. I shook my head and knew Davis would beat Morrison?. Again! But something strange happened and for some weird reason, when Davis crossed the finish line, his time was slower than the 1.45.22 skated by Denny Morrison.

By this time, my heart was racing. All possible traces of fatigue were vanished. I was wide awake and adrenaline was pumping through my body. All kinds of thoughts were tumbling through my mind. But before I had a chance to gather them, the last pair was racing. Halfway through the race, I already saw it wasn?t going to be enough to beat the 1.45.22 and that?s when the rest of the house woke up from me screaming of joy and cheering for what was going on in Japan.


I sat in front of my television and watched how Denny Morrison became World Champion in the 1500m. It took me three seconds and then it hit me: I had to get to work. In December I started the website www.denny-morrison.com and of course I had to update it as soon as possible. This took me almost the entire day, because videos and pictures were pouring in. With one eye on the television and the other one on my computer, the rest of the competition passed by.


The men?s Team Pursuit was quite interesting to watch and after a lot of interviews and skating discussion, the sports program was finished and I switched off my television. The screen went black and my room turned silent. I took a look around, and saw all the signs I made over the last season. I saw a framed picture of one of the skaters and memories of the past season flashed through my mind. I have made so many great friends this season who also love speed skating. My whole life has emerged to a higher level and I must say, this has been one of the best winters ever. Usually, I just hope for winter to pass by as quickly as possible, so summer can arrive. But this winter, I have actually enjoyed winter itself.


But now it is over. The speed skating season 2007-2008 is finished. No more skating until October. I swallowed and felt empty.


Of course, I have plenty of other things to do and summer is also more than nice, but the first couple of weeks, when summer is not there yet, there is an empty void left. In winter, my days are filled with skating and planning skating trips or recovering and reliving competitions. And I think it just has to sink in that it is over.

But, of course, I wouldn?t be me if I wasn?t already thinking about next season and the plans we have for another fascinating winter. But for now, this is it. I hope you all enjoyed my little writing. I did. Have a nice summer and perhaps see you again next season.

World Cup Final, Heerenveen

Posted by speedskating-online on February 28, 2008 at 9:54 AM







Written by Naomi

Dutch speed skating fan


Three days of speed skating have passed by in the blink of an eye. Actually, the whole season has passed by incredibly fast. I left for Heerenveen feeling a little melancholic, knowing it would be the last live event I was going to see and I knew that after it, it would be over. I will now have to do without the clapping of the klapschaats, the chirping of brakes on ice for such a long time. The scent in the air when you enter the Thialf and the excitement of a nice pair, duking it out in the last meters of my favourite distance.


But I also was excited to go, because this time things would be a bit different. We had good company. Kirsti, a new Norwegian friend who loves speed skating just as much as we do, would also come to Heerenveen. I had helped her to find a place to sleep and gave her a ride to Heerenveen and before we knew it, we stood outside the Thialf, in the pouring rain, chatting like we had known each other for years. I guess the love for speed skating bonds more than anything! It also was very helpful for our Norwegian lessons and we had the best of fun trying to pronounce some phrases in Norwegian. Of course, you had to be there to appreciate it, so I will not bore you with any of our hilarious phrases and hours and hours of laughter after it.


Once we were inside and secured our spot, the real job started. Normally we are trying to behave as normal as possible and don?t shout hysterically to the skaters on the ice, but since this was the last time we were there, we unanimously decided to do things differently this time. So whenever a skater passed, we shouted his name in a weird voice and that was rewarded with some pretty nice responses: 9 out of 10 skaters actually waved back at us! And it almost was as if they had a little competition of their own amongst each other to wave as originally as possible. Standing on one leg, pointing a finger at us or making fists of pure joy. It all was hilarious!


I actually think the best moment of the weekend was when Enrico Fabris managed to skate to a bronze medal in the 1500m and thereby proved to be back in shape. We were surprised and happy and so was Fabris himself. Of course Caat brought her huge ?Forza Enrico? banner with her, and Mr. Fabris seemed to appreciate that a lot and celebrated his third place with us. Thanks to the enormous banner!!


This time we had booked a hotel near the Thialf and this saved us a 1.5 hour trip back home and gave us the opportunity to kick back and relax in our fancy hotel rather than driving back through the most boring part of Holland. On Saturday we could even sleep in a little bit and enjoy our luxurious breakfast with the best view ever! But of course we couldn?t enjoy the view for too long, because we had to arrive at the stadium in time again. On Saturday I had a little bit of an off-day, for various reasons, but fortunately the wave during the 5k for men kept me awake! It was a really nice view to see 11,000 people perform a wave at the exact same moment the skaters passed by and this lap after lap after lap! Even the VIP people participated a little bit.




Saturday passed into Sunday and before we knew it, we were being kicked out of the stadium because the security people wanted us to leave. We had just witnessed an amazing victory ceremony with all the World Cup winners passing by on motorcycles and in cabriolets. It was really nice to hear all the noise and see the huge smiles of all the winners when passing us by. And then it was over. Outside it was dark, silent and cold. I was tired and happy to go to the hotel, but also sad to leave the stadium. On the way to the hotel, we all were silent and a little depressed, exhausted and each lost in our own thoughts. We had a nice dinner with a lot of drinks to commemorate the end of the our season.


In the morning the hotel was almost empty and while packing my bag and gathering my stuff, I felt happy I was going home. The season has been so intense and has taken up so much of my time, I was almost relieved it was over and I was looking forward to the summer. Of course, once I got home and watched all my photos and uploaded all my videos, the feeling of relief passed instantly and I am definitely looking forward to the upcoming WSDC in Nagano. It will be four days of watching speed skating on TV. That will be nice for a change! One more competition to go. It?s the icing on the cake. One more weekend? looking forward to it, of course ;-).



Photo credits:

Photo 1: Kristi Biseth

Photo 2: Linda v/d Salm

World All-round Championships in Berlin, Germany

Posted by speedskating-online on February 15, 2008 at 12:57 PM







Written by Naomi

Dutch speed skating fan


Well dear readers, it?s a good thing I don?t work for radio or television and can manage with the written word, because I have lost my voice. And my mother always used to say ?If you lost something, try to remember where you put it?, but in this case I know exactly where I left it. In Berlin, Germany, at the ice rink. I have been cheering so loudly I completely lost my voice.


But it was worth it. Although it was insane for me to hop to Berlin and back, I am very happy that I did it. On Monday I got back from Baselga and on Friday I took the night bus to Berlin. At the very last minute I found an advertisement for one single ticket for the World All-rounds. And because I enjoyed it so much last year and because this season I?m completely hooked on speed skating, I just had to go. And so I did.


And again, it was so different. I had to sit down during the event! Amazing! We, me and 63 other people, left the hotel just one hour before the competition started and we just walked through the gate, sat down and the races began. It felt so weird. I was all nervous because I thought we wouldn?t make it on time, but of course we did, but unfortunately we missed out on the warm-up. But hey, can?t have it all.



And this time, we were also practically with our noses on the ice. With a bench, where the skaters prepare for their race, right in front of us. So we could see and hear almost everything again. And what new things about life on the ice have I discovered?

  • Some skaters re-tie their shoe-laces over and over again. Then loosen them again and re-tie them again! And again!
  • As a speed skater it?s perfectly normal to completely bitch at a camera guy when you?re not feeling happy with your racing.
  • The speed skaters have so much fun with each other. Analyzing the race together and everything.

And last week I talked about the stuff some coaches utter on the ice while coaching their skaters. A funny thing happened, which I guess everybody missed back home. Canadian Steven Elm was racing and his coach Marcel Lacroix was shouting, while he entered the corner: ?Hips, Hips, Hips!? I can?t remember which distance it was, but this happened a few laps in a row, when all of a sudden the people on the stands started to repeat it. Yelling with 100 people: ?Hips, Hips, Hips!? Lacroix seemed to appreciate it, because he fired up the crowd a bit and the next lap he just didn?t have to do anything, because we all coached Steven Elm through his corner.


And although it was an exhausting weekend, it was also very much worth being there. My favourite speed skater, Denny Morrison, didn?t compete in Baselga, but was there in Berlin and actually did very well. He finished first in the 500m, which was new for me because this was the first time I was present when he won. But I also had some nerve wrecking moments, when he skated the 5k and the 10k. Which on one hand is nice, because then you can enjoy the skating a little bit longer than in the 500m, but on the other hand it?s also killing for your voice, because it means you have to shout for 25 laps in a row. And that?s how I lost my voice.


It was no surprise Sven Kramer won the All-round title, so he was the man of the weekend. A new friend at the ice rink wanted to see if we could spot him at the back, so I agreed to go with her. I knew it would be a mission impossible, but I went with her anyways, because I always have the problem of not being able to leave after the competition is over. I lingered around, just not wanting to face the fact it really was over.


But in this case, it was worth it. Not that we could take a picture of Sven Kramer, but we saw a whole bunch of other skaters. Actually, while waiting for H?vard B?kko to come outside, I saw a Canadian guy getting in a van. I wasn?t sure, but I decided to take a better look, just to be sure. And much to my own surprise it was Denny Morrison, packing his stuff, ready to go. Earlier that day, he finished second in the 1500m and he still had the flowers from that ceremony, which he gave to me. We took a nice picture and after that we even caught Shani Davis outside, who was more than willing to get in the picture with us. Unfortunately, we didn?t see Sven Kramer, but after all this, I was ready to leave and go home.


And there I was, in the bus, holding a bouquet of flowers. I must say, after a bus journey of more than 13 hours, even the flowers looked better than me and I was so relieved to be back home again. That is to say? my body is back home, because I left my voice in Berlin. And it seems I left my thoughts on the ice too, because since I?ve been back, I haven?t really done much else than thinking about this weekend, the previous weekends and the upcoming weekends. Maybe it?s a good thing the speed skating season is almost over, because then I can focus on my other hobbies again!

World Cup in Baselga di Pin?, Italy

Posted by speedskating-online on February 8, 2008 at 2:20 PM

Written by Naomi

Dutch speed skating fan



When your two passions are speed skating and traveling, it?s not hard to imagine I?m in favour of many World Cups abroad.


Some people think all World Cup competitions should be skated in Heerenveen, because that seems to be the only ice rink that can hold a crowd of 11,000 at just a World Cup. I, on the other hand, think there?s something romantic about traveling far to see speed skating. In a slightly different setting than usual, but not per se better or worse.


Last Thursday, Caat and I set off to Italy for some serious speed skating, but also for a taste of la dolce vita in Trento and surroundings. Because our trip lasted five whole days, I will not bore you with all the stuff we did or didn?t do. I will just highlight some surprising different things in comparison to the competitions I saw in Heerenveen.


For example: Ice rink Pine is an outdoor track and this means the weather can play a significant role in the outcome of the competition. I think enough has been said already about this, but I would like to point out some surprising bad points due to the weather. Did you know that after standing in the snow for several hours, you are not able to take a picture anymore without having trembling hands?? And did you know that when the sun is shining, there?s such a strong reflection on the ice, it?s impossible to take good pictures and we even managed to get a sunburn?



Another thing that took us by surprise was the fact that we actually stood at the ice rink. Of course, talking about it on the airplane and during the car ride to Baselga, we knew you could stand at the boarding without any hassle like in Heerenveen, but we didn?t actually understand what this implied. It implies you can almost hand over the skate protectors to the skaters when they are leaving the ice. It also implies you can literally hear every word that is being uttered on the ice rink. We were surprised about the way some coaches and trainers talked to their skaters and how much fun the skaters had with each other. It?s just one big happy clan with some soap potential I think. But being able to hear everything, doesn?t automatically imply you can understand everything that is spoken out loud.


Some quotes:

  • Attack the corner
  • Go do your job!!
  • Hips, Hips, Hips, Hips, Hips
  • Skate, skate? come on skate

And some other technical phrases uttered by the coaches and fellow teammates. Maybe I?m just not enough into speed skating to understand all these encouragements, but some phrases just sounded very weird in my ears.


The fact that there were close to no fans at the ice rink and that you could almost hear every single whisper all the way down in the town of Baselga, was also a new experience for me. I am used to shouting my lungs out, clapping, banging on the boarding and just cheering for my favourite speed skaters in every possible way as long as it?s a loud way. But because I didn?t want the people all the way down in Rome to hear me, I had to bite off my tongue a few times in order to keep silent.



Although we had some bad weather while we were there, I also see several advantages of an outdoor ice rink. For instance, 9 out of 10 pictures I?ve taken were not blurry; I almost didn?t use my zoom, which gave me the opportunity to make better and faster pictures and the biggest plus of all things: we were able to stand wherever we wanted. We stood at the start of the 5k for men, at the end of the corner in the 1500m and at the podium for the price winning ceremony for the Team Pursuit. We also had an unspoiled view over the complete ice rink, we didn?t have to wait in line for several hours and we really got an idea of what it is like to be a professional speed skater. And for someone like me, who always wants to get the inside story, it was a really nice and fun experience.


And this upcoming weekend is even better for the inside story. This weekend the World All-round Championships will take place in Berlin. And with an all-round competition, it?s always nice to get the inside story. With all the points and who has to skate which time in order to end up on the overall podium and other stuff like that. But unfortunately I?m not able to watch any of it on television this weekend. I will just have to make do with ?what you see is what you get?. And in this case, it?s not a bad thing. I have managed to get a last minute opportunity to go to Berlin and be present at the World All-round Championships. It?s probably not a surprise that it didn?t take me long to decide!!

The World Sprint Championships in Heerenveen

Posted by speedskating-online on January 24, 2008 at 2:47 PM







Written by Naomi

Dutch speed skating fan


If you say ?Thialf, Heerenveen?, you say Dutch fans in orange outfits, dancing and singing and cheering for every skater that passes by. A lot of the Dutch people like speed skating in some way or the other, and the last huge event in Heerenveen, the World All-round Championships in February 2007, was broadcasted live on national television. And yes, the program had the most viewers of all television programs in 2007. It was viewed by 3,9 million people, almost ? of all the people living in Holland.


But that was on television, and 11,000 people in the stadium itself. No wonder people are considering speed skating in Heerenveen as something you have to see for yourself sometime, some day?


It?s not easy to get tickets, you already know this if you?ve read my other blogs. But what happens on the day itself? Let me tell you how I?ve experienced the World Sprint Championships last weekend.


On Saturday my alarm clock wakes me up at 5 am. You may think I want to snooze a little bit and stay in bed a little while longer, but not me. I jump out of bed and I?m having trouble brushing my teeth because of the big smile that is on my face. I love the sprint distances. These distances are the best distances of my favourite speed skaters, or are they my favourites because they are the best in these distances? Either way, I am really looking forward to this weekend.


It?s pitch dark outside and it?s also raining cats and dogs when I get into my car. I will drive to Caat again, leave my car at her place, and together we will drive to Heerenveen. We arrive there at 9 am. The others are already waiting and we catch up a little bit. We talk to each other every day, but I haven?t seen the girls since the last World Cup in Heerenveen, in December.


We are hiding under a huge piece of plastic, keeping us all warm and dry. You can feel the tension in the line. Everybody is talking and laughing and every few minutes we get some strange faces looking at us, because maybe we?re laughing a little bit too loud. But I don?t care. Time flies when you?re having fun and we are having a lot of fun and we need to kill a whole lot of time.



Tension is building when the security guys start to check our bags and tickets. More and more people are lining up behind us, and fortunately for us, there are not that many people in front of us. More and more security people are gathering, and stewards are waiting at the stairs. We are with four girls and we have a strategy: who will hold which bag, who will go first and crazy stuff like that. Finally we are allowed to walk to the stairs. We have to walk all the way around the stadium and this is really the fastest 300 meters I?ve ever walked. The rain is pouring down on us, I step into huge puddles of water, am being shoved in the back, kicked against my shins, punched against my arms and get beaten once or twice. And we are still walking in a sort of running way.


It must be hilarious to watch, but it?s also dead serious business. Once we are at the north side of the stadium, the stewards are letting us go and we run to the last stairs. In 2 seconds the stairs are filled with people and once everybody has settled down a bit, we discover it?s already 11.20 am. The doors will open at 12 o?clock. In the meantime it?s no longer just raining but water is pouring down on us. In 5 seconds everybody is soaked to the bone. This is really no fun at all! I am wondering why I am doing this and I?m thinking to myself that there better be some really good waving action from my favourite speed skaters to make up for all this crap!!


But it gets even worse! At twelve o? clock, there is still no movement at the door. We wait and we wait. I try to tell myself that the doors will open when they will open and that I just have to be patient? I think of myself as a person with a whole lot of good qualities, and yes, also some bad things. And let me tell you this: patience is not one of my good ones. It takes forever and then, all of a sudden we hear only 1 door will open, instead of 2. Okay, then we really are in poll position, because we are standing at the door that is supposed to be opened!


And then finally? the door opens and we all run inside. We jump down the stairs all the way to the left, and settle for a spot at the most left corner. I can only imagine what an absolutely hilarious sight it must be for a speed skater, doing some warming up on the ice, and then all of a sudden the doors are opened and you see a huge horde of wild fans galloping down the stairs!! And they are all shouting and yelling, like in a Braveheart scene or something.


But back to me, I jump down; following my friend in front of me. Unzip my coat; throw my rucksack on the floor. Dig up my special banner and start saving some space for it. It all goes so fast. I hear people closing in on us, people pushing and I?m trying to tape down my banner to the boarding. 4 people and 2 banners. One normal size, one is huge, so we need a lot of space. But then I look up at the ice rink. I believe I still have a piece of duct tape in my mouth and I see my favourite speed skater, Denny Morrison, waving at us! I forget about the waiting, the rain, the sore feet, the bruises and the lack of sleep: I?m all good now! This is why I did it all. I?m feeling happy and I just feel a huge grin breaking though on my face. Of course, with the duct tape in my mouth and my hands keeping the banner in place, there?s no room to wave back, but I don?t care!



Once we?ve settled down, the ice is almost empty. It?s almost 1 o?clock now, and within half an hour the Championships will start. We amuse ourselves by talking to other people and taking photos. I also have to defend my banner, because some steward thinks it represents a business and he is already trying to pull it down! I can only just prevent that from happening! This guy and I will never be friends! But with a bit of laughter and a joke the bad things of the weekend fade to the background.


Of course I?ve come to see a nice Championship and some nice speed skating at the stadium, but having a favourite out there on the ice, makes me focus on one person in particular and this gives a whole different perspective on how I?ve experienced this event. I try to spot the skaters we support the minute they step on to the ice. That?s a good 250 meters away from where we are standing. And also a good 250 meters to adjust the camera and get ready to show your support. In every possible way you can imagine. It?s good there is no sound to this blog, because we were trying to come up with some original noises to ?show our support?. Haha.


And you might think: how busy can someone be with all that? They only skate 2 distances per day, but being with 4 people, we keep an eye out for all our favourite skaters, being: Jan Bos, The Canadian team (Labrie, Morrison and Wotherspoon), H?vard B?kko, The Russians and Nick Pearson, and well, now that we?re at it, also the other Dutch skaters and the podium candidates, the Koreans, the Chinese and the Finnish guys, because they are really funny. We do this because it?s always nice to have a nice action shot of one of the medal winners. So pretty much half of the contestants.


I won?t bother you people with who skated which time or something, because you can read that elsewhere, and to be honest, I don?t remember a lot of the times and the races we saw. The entire day more or less consisted of clapping, shouting, cheering, taking pictures, filming and keeping an eye out for some interesting people, on the track and off the track.


The first day of the Championships is a long stand, the four distances take a pretty long time and I guess tomorrow the final will be more interesting. I?m almost relieved day 1 is over, because I can barely stay on my feet. We go home immediately. I upload my pictures and am pretty happy with the results of day 1. I review day 1 on MSN with an insider, so this day couldn?t have ended any better. That night I fall asleep almost immediately.


The next morning I?m pleased to wake up and not hear any rain against the window. We get ready for day 2, but once we get into the car, and drive up north, it?s raining? again! But, who cares, we will be there and it will be a fantastic day. We are a bit worried though. Because the waiting and the running on day 1 wasn?t really something we would want to do another time, but we have no choice: we have to.


Fortunately for us, we are having more fun than ever, and time is flying. But unfortunately for us, the walking/ running is even more painful and agonizing than it was the day before, but the result is alright in the end. First row, again. We are a bit surprised though, because when we enter the stadium, we are the first ones to enter, but there are already some people standing at ?our? spot. But there?s no time to think and we install ourselves a little bit more to the right. It turns out to be an even better spot for taking pictures, so everybody is happy.



Caat even brought the video camera, and that thing is the cause of some crazy moments. She asked me not to shout the way I normally do, because that is really loud on camera. We want a shot of Denny Morrison waving, but waving is not his favourite action on the ice. So, when he is slowly getting started and passing by in an abnormally slow pace, it?s THE perfect moment. We all think he?s going to wave, so we are just standing there. Surprised and giggly. Well maybe you should have been there to see us, to see the moment. To see Morrison, who is really confused why his ?fan club? is just gasping at him and you just have to see the video footage we shot, but the moment was hilarious. Maybe even more, because Caat was shouting at me: ?Say something you stupid dork, I?m filming!? And the rest she said, will not be repeated here... But she filmed it all, and when the next Canadian is skating by, we are cheering and he starts to wave very enthusiastically. Somebody in the background says: ?That?s how it?s supposed to be!? And the next shot is of H?vard B?kko, us shouting, and him waving in a very cool way.

Get the picture? Well, let?s just say it was very funny all together and once we?ll figure out how the footage can be put onto a computer, maybe we will share this with all of you.


But unfortunately, it?s not a day of just laughter. There are also big tears. Big fat tears of disappointment. Jan Bos is in pole position for the podium and he will race against Wotherspoon in the 500 meters, but at the crossover, he falls. The whole stadium is in shock. But once he stands up, the whole stadium starts singing ?Heia Jan Bos? and this over and over again, minutes and minutes long. I?m a bit nauseous but the show must go on?.


So no Dutch men on the podium, but it doesn?t really matter. Everybody in the Thialf is enjoying themselves and we all have a fabulous weekend. Vincent Labrie stops by when the races are over to give a gift and to thank us for our support and we are all in shock of such a nice way to say thanks. Once the medal ceremony is over, we are having some troubles leaving. We don?t want to leave; I can?t believe it?s over? So we hang around a bit more, take some pictures and that?s good timing, because on his way out, Denny Morrison is able to sign my banner. We are being kicked out of the stadium and once outside, we merge with the rest of the crowd. We are having dinner in an Italian restaurant in Heerenveen and are almost kicked out of the restaurant, because we are laughing too loud. Well, at least we?re having fun!


It?s 12 o?clock at night when I?m home again. I still can?t believe it?s over and I decide to upload my pictures to the computer right away. I?m pretty pleased with the results and that night I fall asleep with a huge grin on my face. It was worth every single bruise, punch and kick. It was worth the time, money and the effort and I wouldn?t have wanted to miss it for anything in the world.


But the last couple of days, I?m having a little bit of trouble trying to act normal and am coping with some serious withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately for me, I will soon go to the World Cup in Baselga di Pin?. Most of my favourite speed skaters won?t be skating there, but I?m sure, we won?t have to fight for a good spot! So... Until next time.

Canadian Single Distances Championships

Posted by speedskating-online on January 18, 2008 at 2:04 PM







Written by Philippe Riopel,

Canadian speed skater


Read Phil?s own account of his races at the Canadian Single Distances Championships!


Day 1 ? 28 December 2007


Today was the 500m. For the first race I was paired with Fran?ois-Olivier Roberge, who can skate a pretty solid 500m. The draw decided that I would have the inner lane and Franco the outer. Lately, I?ve been struggling with my starts, I was toeing in a lot and couldn?t get off of the line as well as usual, so I didn?t know really what to expect from this race. On Thursday, I did a couple of starts and it felt pretty good, so my confidence was back just in time for the race. Once on the ice I realized the starter was holding the skaters on the line for quite a long time, so I was prepared for either me or my pair to fault start? just as planned? Franco did fault start. On the second start, everything went well and I got one of my best openers ever with a 10.11, built good speed in the first corner and a good end of race with a total time of 35.89, 0.08 seconds off my personal best. But after the race I realized my right hipflexer was getting pretty tight, so I went to see the massage therapist and after talking with him we decided it was best for me not to race the second 500m to save my hipflexer for the next day with the 1000m and 5000m. Also I will be racing Canada Cup 1 next weekend, so it would be stupid to do it and maybe make it worse, especially when you need at least a 34 high to make the 500m team now? That was about it for the first day of racing here in Calgary! I?ll let you know how it goes tomorrow?


See you all!




Day 2 ? 29 December 2007


I MADE THE WORLD CUP TEAM!!! Haha, I didn?t really expect that today. A year ago, I did the exact same thing but I had to give up my spot to go to Heerenveen because the schedule didn?t work with my training for Junior Worlds. This year, I will get to go to Hamar in Norway to skate a 1000m and then I will have to come back to train, go to Milwaukee for the North American Championships and then, two weeks later, race in Asia for the Junior Worlds, my last ones.


The race itself was pretty good! I was paired with Jeremy, so I knew he was most likely going to be faster than me unless something happened during the race. Before the race, I was worried about the first crossover since I was in the inner lane. I knew he would open faster than me and I thought it would be close in the first backstretch, but he easily went over the top. I didn?t even get a draft? Haha. After that first crossover I realized I had to focus on my own race and that?s what I did. Coming into the last stretch, Jeremy had pretty much already crossed the line and I thought that I was having a bad race since he was so far ahead but then I remembered? he?s the best in the world! It?s almost normal to be that far back, so I crossed the line in a time of 1:09.90, good enough for 5th, only 0.01 second behind 4th place finisher Matt McLean. At first I thought I missed the team by 0.01, but then I realized Jeremy and Denny were prequalified, so that would give me the last spot to go to the World Cups for the 1000m!


After all that, I had to get ready for a 5000m. I was paired with Dustin Johnston, it started out all right but I got tired really quick. After 5 laps I think, I was coming out of the outer and I had to stand up to crossover, so Dustin got DQ?ed but got to have a reskate at least. I ended with a 6:45, 8 seconds off my personal best. The 5000m wasn?t the best, but at least I could be happy about my 1000m.


Tomorrow is the 1500m, hopefully I can have a good one after the 1000m I had today. I?ll keep you posted!





Day 3 ? 30 December 2007


It?s crazy how fast things can change. I had a really good race yesterday, and a very normal race today. In the 1500m, I was just slow. Very slow. One of my slowest times in two years. 1:49 something, I don?t really know the hundreds and I don?t think it really matters.


Tomorrow, the 10k, already my fourth of the year, and also the last race of the weekend.





Day 4 ? 31 December 2007


10k. First pair. On my own. Is there anything else to say? Haha. No I wasn?t THAT bad, but it wasn?t the greatest either. I could hear everything the announcer was saying. ?Philippe Riopel, coming with 18 to go.? Come on... I don?t need to know that, I?m already hurting and I?m not even halfway there, haha. But oh well, I made it through. It was good training too. It makes the 3k and 5k looks so much shorter and that?s what I?ll need to race at Junior Worlds.


Overall, I?m pretty happy about the weekend. First day was good although it could have been better. Second day was awesome! Third day, not the greatest. And fourth day, it was decent, some good training.


Hopefully you guys like the little blog about the Canadian Single Distances Championships! I?m not too sure when the next one will be, most likely during Hamar, unless other races come up in between.


See you all later!


Preferences, choices and favourites

Posted by speedskating-online on January 10, 2008 at 4:14 PM







Written by Naomi,

Dutch speed skating fan


Last weekend the Dutch Sprint Championships took place in Heerenveen. I couldn?t go there, but of course it was broadcasted live on television. Maybe hard to believe but both on Saturday and Sunday, we had 3 full hours of speed skating on TV. It made me long for the next competition I will attend: the World Sprint Championships, which will also be in Heerenveen, so we could say last weekend was a rehearsal.


But it seems like nobody really cares who actually wins the Dutch sprint title. Two weeks before the World Sprints, none of the Dutch speed skaters is sure if they will in fact race at the World Sprints. And I think that?s not right. I?m convinced that when skaters know they will start at certain competitions, they can focus better, prepare better for their upcoming races and overall will perform better.


Take a look at the Canadians. Jeremy Wotherspoon is the best in the 500m, no doubt about it. Speed Skating Canada pre-selected him for the upcoming World Sprint Championships, but nevertheless he skated some pretty amazing times at the Canadian Single Distances Championships and the third fastest time ever in the 500m right before he left for Europe.


But no, not in Holland. In Holland, it?s even after the Dutch Sprint Championships that a discussion will go on about who skated the best, who should have skated better or who deserves to go. And it?s this discussion that makes me so tired and makes me tend to like other skaters better. Of course, the skaters are not to blame for the variety of competition or the lack of predetermined guidelines. Or are they?


What about Mark Tuitert, for example? He?s a European All-round Champion and his best distances are the 1000m and the 1500m. He has decided not to race at the Dutch All-round Championships because he thinks the gap between him and a guy like Sven Kramer is too big. I have to say, it seems the gap is not only too big for Tuitert, but also for the rest of the world at this moment, but we will see what happens at the next all-round competitions. But Tuitert has acknowledged this and has decided to race at the Dutch Sprint Championships instead, in order to be nominated for a spot at the World Sprint Championships, because there is so much potential progress for him to be made in his 1000m and 500m. And don?t get me wrong, I like Mark Tuitert and I think all skaters should be able to race the races they want, but it?s just the twists and turns in this logic:


There is so much potential improvement for him to be made in the sprint distances, that he wants to give it a try. It?s like world record holder in the 500m, Jeremy Wotherspoon, would consider to compete in the 10K because there is so much room for improvement there for him. Let?s forget the fact that Sven Kramer would maybe lap him twice if they would be paired together, but at least there?s a personal best time waiting to be skated! Or what if the world record holder in the 10k, the same Sven Kramer, would decide to only race 500m?s at the World Cup circuit, because he knows his long distances are more than okay? Again, let?s forget the fact that Wotherspoon in his turn, would lap Kramer, if they would be paired together in a 500m race.


Again, don?t get me wrong, maybe change of food makes hungry and the skaters should be able to skate the distances they want and at the competitions of their choice. And exactly that is what?s the problem in Holland. We have so many skaters who are really good in so many distances. And there is only a limited amount of spots for Dutch skaters. And the Dutch just love the All-round Championships; they just can?t seem to get enough of it. Next week there is a skate-off for one or two spots at the World All-round Championships in Berlin, Germany. I believe 8 skaters will compete for those two spots and all 8 of them are considered to be favourites for those 1 or 2 places.


But how many races can a skater race? And how many races should a skater race at international competitions in order to improve him- or herself? As an outsider (I don?t skate myself) I would say, let the best skater win. But in Holland, it?s more a question of who will be racing at the next competition (at every competition over and over again). And when The Netherlands send somebody to an international competition, what?s more important? That this person will skate top 10 or even top 5 or that the skater will improve himself and gain experience for the rest of his skating career? In Holland, it always seems as if the skater with the best form of the day will go to the next round, but maybe it?s the skater?s plan to peak at the end of the season, when the real prizes are handed out?

Promises and plans

Posted by speedskating-online on December 30, 2007 at 9:14 AM







Written by: Naomi

Dutch speed skating fan


I?m not really good at keeping my promises, am I?? In the blog about the World Cup in Heerenveen I promised to write about my promise to Denny Morrison, but because of Jan Bos? victory in Erfurt, I more or less forgot about that.


The promise. Okay, what do you say to a speed skater who is coming over to you to sign your sign? I still don?t know what the right thing to say is, but I decided to ask Denny what he would like his new website to be called. He was a little bit surprised that I wanted to make a website for him, or maybe he was surprised that I could, I don?t know. But it doesn?t matter, because at a certain point in the conversation I promised to make a website and that I would keep in touch.


Not exactly sure what I had in mind, or even how I would do it, I just decided to get to it. I designed a website for Denny Morrison. And I must say, it was very hard work, but also great fun. Step by step, I learned more and more things and the hard work is paying off now: I?ve managed to make a website (www.denny-morrison.com)! The next promise is a new sign. Also hard work, but fun to make...


This actually brings me to another thing about my life: how do you plan a nice speed skating trip and how do you decide what competitions to go to?


In my case, it?s either predetermined or a case of boredom and being in a very good mood. I will first explain the predetermined part of the trip planning. Of course, being a speed skating fan in Holland puts you in the category of lucky people. Holland has the Thialf in Heerenveen and I don?t exactly know why, but we always get 2 or 3 events a year. Most of the time we get a fall and a winter World Cup and on top of that a World Championship or at least the European Championships. As soon as the calendar is published, it?s settled. We will go to Heerenveen, if we manage to get tickets?


However, it?s different when it comes to the World Cups and other competitions abroad. In 2003 I decided to combine a winter holiday with the World Single distances Championships in Inzell. That was absolutely fabulous, and made me long for more. The 2006 Winter Olympics were in Torino, and since Italy is relatively close to home, I decided to go. I managed to get the money together for the trip, but something happened in my personal life, which shifted my priorities. So I never went to see the Olympics in Torino.


When the calendar for this season was published, we more or less joked around to go to Nagano to see the World Single Distances Championships again. But because of my other travel plans, we never managed to put the trip together. We will call it lack of time and lack of money.


But being back in Holland again, the speed skating fever hit me at full strength. And so it happened we planned a trip abroad in one hour. I was on the phone with Caat, who was very bored at her work one lazy Sunday afternoon, and before we realized what we had just done, we had booked a trip to Baselga di Pine to see the World Cup this upcoming February. The flight was very cheap, we got a rental car with a discount and there?s always some cheap hostel around. The only problem is usually how to get the time off from work, but we never worry about that. I also don?t really care where we go, as long as I can afford it, and as long as there?s speed skating involved. So, Baselga di Pine, here we come!


I think it was also on one of Caat?s boring days at work when she called to tell me how awesome it would be to go to the World Cup in Hamar. I was a bit surprised when she presented me with a complete travel plan. Fly to Sweden, drive to Norway and go to the World Cup in Hamar for 3 days. All good things combined, so to speak. But there was one major obstacle and that was the lodging problem. Norway is a very expensive country and with the speed skating World Cup in Hamar and the European Championships handball in Lillehammer, it was impossible to find a place to stay that was not going to be a problem for our tight budget. So we decided 4 skating trips in one season would be enough? for this year.


But then the calendar for the 2010 Olympics got published and that put Caat and me into a vibe of ?when are we going, where are we going? craziness. We noticed immediately that it would take some puzzling because the men?s half pipe snowboarding final will take place at the exact same time as the men?s 1000m speed skating. But that?s just the dilemma of what to see when we get there. Another problem is to arrange a flight to Canada, but the biggest problems will probably be to find a place to stay and to get tickets.


Now, Caat and I are not really people who linger over problems. We just ignore them and shift our attention to another project. While looking at the calendar for the upcoming years, we noticed that the 2009 World Single Distances Championships will be in Vancouver. And at that point, we decided to check it out for the 2010 Olympics. To see if it?s worth our trouble to fly over there in 2010... ;)


Grotere kaart weergeven


But hopping over the ocean to Canada for just one week is a little bit too extravaganza for us. So we fantasized that the last 2 World Cups will probably be in North America as well and going over there to go to Salt Lake City-Calgary-Vancouver sounded more like it would be worth our trouble. Caat already got to it by looking at tickets to Utah, Greyhound bus trips to the other cities and flying back from Vancouver. I also think she checked out the Starbucks website to see how many coffee mugs she will be able to collect on this trip, but I?m not sure?


The only obstacle will be the ISU. Will they agree to our travel plans?? I hope they do, because it will be a marvellous trip. And that?s how a trip abroad is born. Once the ISU will publish the dates for the World Cups in the 2008-2009 season, we will check it out, to see if it fits our plan, and we will go. It?s as easy as that. And if not, then we had a lot of fun thinking about it.