Home WORLD EUROPA The Dutch recipe for speed skating medals

The Dutch recipe for speed skating medals


Just go to the ice ring of Groningen, in the northeast of the country, to notice it. In the evening, during the week, dozens of amateurs spin on the slopes.

You see that children dream of the Olympics and medalsexplains Auke, a trainer in the region.

In the country’s Olympic history, many have achieved this goal. Of the 143 medals won by the Dutch at Winter Games, 138 have been in short and long track speed skating events.

The Netherlands is struggling with a beautiful problem. This small country of 17 million inhabitants has a lot of talent in these disciplines, but can only send a handful of athletes to the Olympics, given the rules of the International Olympic Committee.

In Beijing, the limit is nine men and nine women in long track speed skating.

We have a huge pool of high quality skaters. How to choose the right ones? »

A quote from Gerard Sierksma, professor at the University of Groningen

This is the question posed several years ago by mathematician Gerard Sierksma, professor at the University of Groningen.

He smiles on the edge of an ice ring.

Professor at the University of Groningen Gerard Sierksma helped develop the Dutch skater selection algorithm.

Photo: TurnedNews.com / Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair.

Himself a skater in his spare time, he had the idea of ​​putting science at the service of sport by proposing to the Dutch Olympic Committee the creation of an algorithm that would facilitate the selection of athletes.

The committee, which aims for the Netherlands to be among the top 10 or even the top 5 countries in the medal table, quickly accepted the proposal.

The algorithm, dubbed the matrix, helps to determine the events in which the Dutch have the best chance of winning medals. Based on their performances in the Olympic qualifying events, skaters are then selected.

We use the performances achieved on different competitions on various ice rings in the worldexplains Gerard Sierksma to describe the factors that are taken into consideration by his team and him.

Obviously, some factors, such as the risk of falling, are unpredictable.

As there are more starting positions than athletes admitted to competitions, the objective is also to select skaters who will succeed in standing out in more than one distance.

An example: in 2022, the matrix suggested that the Dutch had a maximum chance of winning medals in the 5000m, mass start and 3000m.

Many skaters line up on the ice.

Speed ​​skating is a very popular sport in the Netherlands.

Photo: TurnedNews.com / Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair.

The skater Irene Schouten, who stands out in all these events, was unsurprisingly able to qualify for the Olympic Games. In Beijing, she won gold in the 5,000 and 3,000 m. The mass start competition will be held on February 19.

With this algorithm, it is therefore no longer enough to win the qualifying events, which are very competitive in the Netherlands, to ensure a one-way ticket to the Olympic Games.

It can be very frustratingadmits Professor Sierksma, not only for the athletes who achieve excellent performances in the qualifications, but also for the members of the Olympic Committee who ultimately have the decision to exclude some of these athletes from the selection, because of the suggestions of the matrix.

A success?

Explanations about an algorithm are printed on a sheet.

Professor Gerard Sierksma explains how the algorithm that helps select Dutch skaters for the Olympics works.

Photo: TurnedNews.com / Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair

The algorithm developed at the University of Groningen was first applied to the selection of athletes for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

In Russia, the Netherlands broke a record with their 24 medals.

Four years later, in Pyeongchang, picking was also fruitful. The Dutch left South Korea with 20 medals, including 8 gold.

In Beijing, although the competitions are not over, skaters from the Netherlands continue to impose themselves on the ice. The country has already collected 13 medals, including 12 in speed skating.

The Dutch continue to surpass their performance in past Games. In Vancouver in 2010 and in Turin in 2006, they had obtained less than 10 medals.

Newspaper headlines reporting Dutch performances at the Olympics.

The performances of Dutch skaters are closely followed in the Netherlands.

Photo: TurnedNews.com / Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair.

Can the algorithm, which began to be used after the Games in British Columbia, explain the Dutch successes on the ice?

It’s hard to say, answers mathematician Gerard Sierksma, who points out that several other factors must be taken into consideration.

There is a lot more energy that is deployed by the Olympic committee to be among the 10 most medal-winning countries. We also invest a lot of money in this sport. »

A quote from Gerard Sierksma, professor at the University of Groningen

According to him, the success of this system, which is unique in the world, is above all based on the fact that it offers clarity in the selection process and that it is now accepted by athletes and their coaches.

Gerard Sierksma, who follows the Olympic competitions with attention, says he has been living a dream for a few years.

My hobby and my profession as a mathematician mergehe said.

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