Dutch rule speed-skating oval

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency


Sven Kramer of the Netherlands set an Olympic record by winning the men's 5,000-metre speed skating race at the Vancouver Olympics Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010. (DANIEL MALLARD/QMI AGENCY)

RICHMOND, B.C. — It starts when you get on the sky train and realize you’re surrounded by an inordinate amount of orange.

But it doesn’t really hit you until you walk into the Richmond Olympic Oval to catch a little speed skating.

Home-ice advantage? Yeah, right. Maybe for the Dutch.

You know how Canadians traipse across the globe to turn every world junior hockey championship into hoser heaven?

We’ve got nothing on the Dutch when it comes to speed skating.

As the competition got out of the blocks with the men’s 5,000 metres here Saturday, it was immediately clear our friends from the Netherlands have hijacked the oval.

Forget about a sea of red — half the seats were filled with orange, the country’s unofficial colour.

Seems crossing the ocean is nothing when you’ve got a chance to see one of your own win a gold medal.

That’s exactly what happened, when “hometown” hero Sven Kramer set an Olympic record by winning the race with a time of 6:14.60, setting off a celebration that saw Kramer do his version of the Lambeau Leap: Scaling the barricades for an emotional embrace with his parents and significant other.

The party would no doubt wind up at Heineken House, which is the second home — along with the Oval — for the Dutch during these Games.

“One beer should be possible,” Kramer allowed. “I worked my ass off to win this medal.”

The Canadians? All they could do was watch, although Lucas Makowsky and Denny Morrison, not exactly specialists in the 5,000, had nothing to hang their toques about.

Makowsky, in particular, turned in a stellar debut (6:28.71), pumping his fist after beating his personal best on this track by some five seconds to finish 13th in his first career Olympic race. Morrison finished 18th.

But this day was all about the little country below sea level that somehow churns out speed skaters like Canada produces hockey players.

“Every year a little child starts with his daddy on his hand skating on all the lakes and rivers,” Dutch fan Dees Ebbing said. “It’s in our genes.”

Ebbing came all the way from The Hague with his wife and two adult kids. Some came just to see Kramer win the 5,000.

And between races, there’s always the house band, an 11-piece group outfitted in the state’s official colours — blue, red and white — along with wooden shoes.

They call themselves the Kleintje Pils, or “small beer.” But this isn’t just a rag-tag bunch. They regularly accompany their queen abroad.

“We are royal decoration,” Gerard Bakker, the drummer, explained. “We are a lot invited to make a special Dutch atmosphere, the wooden shoes, windmills and cheese.”

And beer.

“We don’t drink during the performance,” Bakker insisted. “But after, when everything is finished and we are happy, then of course we also drink a beer.”

Yes, the Dutch love their lager. Another thing they have in common with us Canucks.

But while our passion is pucks, they’re in love with long track.

“We learn faster how to do speed skating than how to walk or how to use the bike,” is how Bakker put it.

And they’ve quickly learned how to snap up tickets and turn the oval into a sea of orange.

To their credit, they cheer any good skater.

But the roar for the Dutch was over the top, surprising even the Canucks.

“We need some people who throw paint,” Morrison suggested. “Just get red paint and toss it on the Dutch people. Paint the town red.”

Canadian coach Marcel Lacroix had a more practical idea.

“We’ll take control from here,” Lacroix said. “With the 1,000-metre and 1,500.”

We’ll drink to that.

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

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