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Oranje Crush: How the Netherlands became speed skating royalty

AP Photo/Petr David Josek

Oranje Crush: How the Netherlands became speed skating royalty

Which came first: Dutch dominance in speed skating or the Netherlands' love for the sport?

It’s an Olympic-level chicken or the egg scenario: does the Netherlands like speed skating because they’re so good, or are they so good because they like it so much?

The Dutch numbers don’t lie. So far, six of their 17 PyeongChang medals are speed skating gold, and they even swept the podium in the women’s 3000m. The Netherlands has the most speed skating Olympic medals in the world with 41 gold medals and 118 medals total.

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But it wasn’t always that way. In speed skating’s earlier days (men’s events started in 1924 and women began competing in 1960), Norway was king of the ice oval. The ice skating-loving Dutch spent decades staring at the backs of the Norwegians.

The Netherlands’ breakout year was in 1968 at the Grenoble Games when it took home three speed skating golds. A national darling emerged four years later at the 1972 Sapporo Games in the form of Ard Schenk, who took home three gold medals by himself in the 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m.

Fast forward to the 2014 Sochi Games, and developments around the country – including a slew of huge, Olympic-level training ovals – and international success has made the Netherlands synonymous with speed skating. The Dutch made history that year, filling the podium not once but four times.

In PyeongChang, the Netherlands has continued to maintain its reputation for powerful speed skaters (and ragers in the Holland House, where athletes and their families can relax, watch the Games and party every night the Dutch grab a medal).  

But meanwhile outside of the Olympic Village, another form of speed skating reigns supreme in South Korea. Short track speed skating, the younger (and shorter) sibling of long track, is all the rage, with Koreans packing the Gangneung Ice Arena on race days.

With 48 overall medals in short track, South Korea might not have the storied legacy of the Netherlands, but it leads the world in Olympic short track gold. One thing to consider is that short track is decades younger than long track and has fewer medal events at every Olympics, so it would take any country a while to reach a triple-digit count like the Netherlands’.

As the sport of short track speed skating grows internationally and on the Olympic level (a new event was just added for the PyeongChang Games), South Korea might just have a chance to become the Netherlands of short track.

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