Douwe de Vries (NED) knows as well as anyone that there is arguably no team in sport harder to get in to than the Dutch Olympic Speed Skating squad. The long-distance specialist may have been a five-time Team Pursuit World Single Distance Champion but even he never made it on to Olympic ice. Now, at the start of a season that culminates in the biggest event of them all, the Dutchman reveals just what it is like to fight to represent the most successful nation in Speed Skating history.
Douwe De Vries (NED) at the 2019 ISU World Allround Speed Skating Championships © International Skating Union (ISU)
“If you ask even the biggest Olympians in the Netherlands, if you ask them what they found most nerve-wracking, it’s not the Olympics themselves but it’s the qualifying race before the Olympics,” De Vries said on a special ISU World Cup Speed Skating season preview episode of The Ice Skating Podcast, available to listen to now.
After last year’s two bubble events in Heerenveen (NED), this season features four events across November and December 2021 serving as qualifying competitions for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games and the World Cup Final in Heerenveen in March 2022.
At the past two Winter Games, the Netherlands’ Speed Skaters have claimed close to 60% of all the gold medals on offer in the sport, including a quite remarkable haul of eight of the 12 titles available at Sochi 2014, and seven of 14 in PyeongChang four years later.
It is no wonder that the Dutch Olympic trials is one of the most fraught, tension-filled events out there.
“Especially if you are the top guy, the top girl, you can only lose there not necessarily win anything,” De Vries confirms. “Also for the other skaters, that is one moment in the whole year you have to peak, you have to be good. If you are not good there then you won’t make it.”
It does make for incredible viewing for the fans.
“Yeah,” the now 39-year-old agrees. “You know already from the start, in the 500m Men’s for instance that there’s going to be eight guys who are able to have Olympic ambitions and can skate those times to be internationally at the top. But there’s only three places so there are going to be a lot of guys not making it.”
Ireen Wust (NED) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating in 2020 © International Skating Union (ISU)
“Those are two of the special ones. To be doing that for such a long period and to be so amazingly successful, it’s something very special to have that in a sport and to have that in Speed Skating for us Dutchies is even more exciting to have,” De Vries said of Kramer and Wust, who will be chasing their fifth and sixth Olympic titles respectively, should they make it to the startline in Beijing 2022.
“I had the pleasure of working with them for multiple years and seeing that up close. What they put on the line every day for all the competitions is amazing.”
As chair of the ISU’s Athletes Commission De Vries has one more message for the Speed Skaters as this thrilling season gets under way.
Sven Kramer (NED) competes in the Men's 5000m at the 2021 ISU World Speed Skating Championships © International Skating Union (ISU)
“It’s always safety…even if everything around them is really quite open, they have to really look out and stay corona-free. If that means that they have to isolate themselves before going to China or going to the out-of-country races I think they should. Because if you get corona – even if you are vaccinated it doesn’t mean anything – then you won’t be able to compete or travel,” he says.
“It’s going to be hard but just do it because it would be terrible to be standing at the Olympics, maybe in the last week before the race and then get knocked out because you have corona. So, be safe and try to keep your eye on the prize and go and get some medals.”