HERE COME THE DUTCH!
On Saturday a week ago I happened to watch an update on the Olympic Games with speed skating going on. I heard that the Dutch team won 24 medals, 23 in speed skating. They apparently won in each distance and each colour of metal, a force to reckon with, and the team to challenge. Wow, how did that happen? A country as small as the total size of Great Bear Lake, a mid-size lake in the NW Territories, how did they specialize in speed skating? A nation of rain and hardly any significant ice, with about half the residents of Canada, it sounds almost not logical. The nations with months on end of temperatures below zero, like Canada with double the residents of the Netherlands and many times it size, or the Scandinavian countries, or Russia would make more sense to have won all that metal.
As a Dutch-born and raised woman, I remember we all went outside as soon as it started freezing to try out the ice; when it had been freezing a few days on end, we were out skating on a purposefully frozen pasture (our skating rink), or on a pond or canal. Because the levels of the Dutch waterways were strictly controlled throughout the year to prevent floods, the canals made a good network of natural ice all throughout the nation. The nation is as flat as a pancake, no hills, no skiing, and no reason not to take the bicycle everywhere.
Stands would spring up along the side of natural ice, selling hot cocoa, hot water with brandy, or with lemons and sugar, which went down easily. This was in the time without much TV and no video games. Soon after, talk would begin about the seven-city tour, a challenging ride across natural ice, the participants skating along the edges of the large inner body of water, called the IJsselmeer. That tour was extremely challenging and took over a whole day, really a marathon on rough ice and the photos of frostbitten faces appeared on the front pages of the new papers. I still remember the names of winners of those tours. Unfortunately, due to climate change that tour happens less often, maybe every 15 year or so when it’s extremely cold. Skating was a passion in the Netherlands. When the country became more affluent in the seventies, the outdoor rinks were replaced by indoor rinks, ovals they call those in Canada, where skaters could fine tune their skills and train in relative luxury. Speed skates developed into speed machines, and were a common birthday present in those days.
During the years of the Second World War a lot of people in Europe did not have enough calcium in their diet due to food shortages; thus after the end of the war, milk was promoted up the Ying Yang by parents and the milk industry, resulting in large-boned children, and their parents became even larger. The Dutch are supposed to be the largest (not heaviest) people in the world, follows that they have long legs as well. It was funny to see a race of the Koreans skate against the Dutch: enough said about that.
In Canada, the provinces that have several months of cold weather and that are flat, making skating the natural option for recreation one would think, are the Prairie Provinces, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and much of Alberta. It is often minus 20 Centigrade and colder, so one doesn’t think of going outside, unless suicidal. I have no idea what those people do in the winter. Oh, yes, I do know: they are playing inside in rinks, curling, hockey, and the girls (and some men) do the twirling on white figure skates. They enjoy beer while doing this and the bonspiels in small towns are famous for the overindulging in that golden liquid during those times and sometimes followed by scrapping. I am not a reporter or sports aficionado, but it seems to me that hockey is all about scrapping or waiting until that happens. I am showing my ignorance here. In spite of talents who are great to watch, such as Gretzky and Sid the Kid, I cannot get excited: I hardly see where the puck sails off to. In Canadian affluent society, rinks are everywhere; most small towns have one, the ice time shared by every club and the public as well. Due to the cold weather, it doesn’t even costs that much to keep the ice good; the rinks’ roof and the bleachers inside make it rather OK to be inside.
Canada is all about hockey. Canada IS hockey, the national past time. Everybody can play in the summer, in the streets with a cheap net, or just two rocks or backpacks as goals at each end of a stretch in the street—skinny hockey. In winter it takes a dad to flood a backyard. Wayne Gretzky’s dad is famous for giving his kid a good start in the game on their backyard rink. Unfortunately, even with programs to help poorer families to get their kid into the game, as it is expensive to play with a club, where the road to become professional begins. Nevertheless, many families scrimp and save to have their kids play and hope for a golden future. The salaries are enormous and in my view, rather outrageous. I am sure the footballers in Europe and Brazil have comparable salaries.
I find it still a rather strange premise under which the Olympic are allow athletes to play. The Dutch speed skaters are amateurs, I bet, while the Canadian hockey players definitively are not. In the two nations, different circumstances led to specialization.
As a mountainous nation, Canada has many ski resorts where kids play and party during the winter months. The trip to the mountains is part of being young, ski hard, party hard: better than becoming a couch potato in front of the idiot box. Being active outside is the best way to enjoy the long winter.
This year the winter Olympics saw the Canadian and Dutch athletes established in their own specific sports. Canadians, with their crazy skiing, with their knack for performing at breakneck speed down a mountain in a sled, or on skies or a board, and on a rink with a stick and puck, or a rock and a broom, had a quite substantial number of medals, and the gold for hockey, while the Dutch with their long legs and buns of steel, took 23 of the 25 medals in the speed skating field (losing two to Canada).
Way to go, congratulations!
Did you enjoy the Olympics? What is your view of it, waste of money, enjoyable, other?
What was your favourite sports or moment?