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Speedskating Drama Flares Up After Swedish Champion Calls Out “Fucked Up” Dutch “Corruption”

BEIJING, CHINA - FEBRUARY 06: Nils van der Poel of Team Sweden celebrates winning the Gold Medal and setting a new Olympic record time of 6:08.84 during the Men's 5000m on day two of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Speed Skating Oval on February 06, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Nils van der Poel won speedskating gold in the men’s 5,000-meter race earlier this week, and despite his incredibly Dutch-looking name, he did so for Sweden. His victory earned Sweden their first Olympic gold medal in speedskating in 34 years, and he broke a nearly unchallenged run of recent Dutch dominance in the event.

Beating the Dutch in any speedskating event is impressive given how thoroughly they’ve owned every distance at the Olympics for decades. This dominance has earned the Dutch skating federation (KNSB) a certain degree of power within the sport, power they have used, by their own admission, to kindly ask skating officials to ensure ideal ice conditions.

This pissed off van der Poel, who ripped into the Dutch in his post-gold medal press conference. The Swede was mad about an article in Schaatsen, a Dutch outlet affiliated with the KNSB. The article is about the efforts of Dutch ice scientist Sander van Ginkel to test the various qualities of the Beijing ice and then use his accumulated data to lobby chief ice technician Mark Messer. It’s this last bit that infuriated van der Poel. “This is corruption,” he said at the presser. “This is trying to alter the field of play in your favor by using unethical and immoral means.” He also characterized van Ginkel’s work as “fucked up” and an “abomination.”

What does van Ginkel actually do? Here’s a quote from an English translation of the Schaatsen story:

Van Ginkel collects all kinds of data with which he visits the chief of the ice masters every other day. In the first few days, he certainly had the idea that it was having an effect. “At the time, many skaters thought the ice was too warm and too soft. I don’t know if it was because of my comments, but the temperature kept dropping a bit in the following days. By showing how I arrive at my measurement results, I hope to convince Messer and his people of my ideas. What I mainly try is to give him new information.”

Schaatsen

Since Dutch skaters tend to be used to colder, firmer ice, so—while everyone has to race on the same ice either way—van der Poel is advancing the argument that van Ginkel is unfairly lobbying Messer in order to ensure Dutch skaters will have the conditions they’re used to and have trained on. So far skaters have had mixed reviews of the ice quality, though Olympic records have fallen across the board. For their part, Dutch officials denied angling for any sort of advantage, and Messer called van der Poel’s comments “extremely offensive.” He also said a picture in the Schaatsen story showing him in discussions with van Ginkel was inaccurately framed, as he was in the process of telling the Dutch team to, I guess, shut up and go away. The winner here is obvious and it’s van der Poel, not just because he won gold, but because he’s a cool guy who loves to party.