Gold in the short relay track, for national coach Otter, it feels like a continuation of life

Hug after gold set.Statue of Klass Jan van der Weig / de Volkskrant

For a moment, it looks like the Dutch women in the 3,000m relay have gone wrong. The push that Selma Poutsma wants to give Xandra Velzeboer is wrongly timed: China’s Qun Chunyu shoots into the net while South Korea’s Kim A-lang sinks into the hole. None of that, Vilzibor thought. She turns. In one or three turns, she, in turn, overcomes her rivals.

Except for the error in this substitution, ten laps before the end, the Netherlands leads the entire final, by 27 laps. Velzeboer’s repair portends a crushing Dutch shutdown of the relay. She makes a gap that will never close again, not even when Schulting and Yara Van Kerkhove take turns after her. In the end, Schulting went on to be the last driver for the quartet to win the gold medal, ahead of Korea and China. The roar reverberates through the capital’s indoor stadium.

Schulting already knew what it meant to be an Olympic champion. I’ve done twice already. Four years ago and two days ago she was the best in the 1000m. The sequence is different. ‘It is amazing. Now you can really share it together,” she said brightly, half an hour after she was honored with her teammates on the ice.

The best part

That bonding makes the relay, in which four riders comfort each other every few laps with a big push, is the nicest part of a short track, according to national coach Jeroen Otter. It is a form of competition in which the coach’s hand is more visible. Whoever directs an individual athlete to victory depends more on the talent and capabilities of that individual. Those overseeing a team have to knead and baffle so much more.

His Sunday success feels like the end of his career. He called it “Magnum Opus”. He doesn’t have to think too long about whether this is the best achievement of his coaching career. Even before uttering the question mark, he answered: “That’s nicer.”

For years Otter worked in his plow. First with Jorien ter Mors as a driving force and the two powerful sisters Sanne and Yara van Kerkhof. Then Susan Schulting joined in. Things went better and better, the group got stronger, even after Sanne van Kerkhof left, and Ter Mors bid farewell to speed on the short track after the Pyeongchang games.

Since Otter began his coaching career in 1994, he has pursued a gold medal in the Olympic relay. First in the US, later in Canada and since 2010 in the KNSB service. Last time in Pyeongchang four years ago it didn’t work out. The women failed to reach the final, but were judged as the final B. There they set the fastest time, even faster than South Korea in the real final battle. They took the bronze medal due to disqualification twice in the final. It was a consolation prize, nothing more.

Lara van Roijven played a major role in his later plans for the Beijing Olympics. Under Otter’s care and in a motivating team environment, she has developed into a world-class sprinter. In 2019, she was the first Dutch woman to win a world short-track title in the 500 metres.

loss of Roigvin

But in the summer of 2020, during a training camp in France, Van Ruijven fell ill. An autoimmune disorder with complications. She died at the age of 27. The loss hit me. The shortage is still an important factor in the team. “Even though we’ve passed every emotional and crying phase,” Schulting says.

Before the Olympics, Otter opened up a conversation about Van Roogven. He thought it was good to talk about her. Relay drivers think so, too. Despite her passing, she is part of the Dutch trackers’ short success, and it is still in mind that she is still part of the team. Van Kerkhove: “You got us this way, you got us here.”

Van Rugen always wore a tiger motif on her helmet and goggles and owes this nickname “Tiger Lara”. In memory of all the Dutch short track skaters with a little heart and a tiger engraving on their left sleeve, they drove in Beijing. Strict dress codes in games have been expanded for this. “I rubbed it in right before the start,” Van Kerkhove says. I thought, “Look, give me strength.”

Despite the tragedy a year and a half ago, the Dutch national team showed itself stronger than ever in the past two winters. The women became world champions in 2021 and were the clear favorites for the Olympic title. And they wanted to convey that by controlling the final.

It was partly thanks to the master’s blow that Otter had applied with the relief arrangement. Poutsma has a “missile launch”. But whoever starts first is also the one who usually has to get the Schulting in for the rest of the race. Let Schulting be the heaviest and Botsma the least powerful. This may have a negative effect, especially in the end.

However, botsma started. “No one can keep up,” Otter declared. But after the role of Van Kerkhove and Schulting, it was not Felsbauer who entered the field, but Botsma again. For example, the Dutch team’s standings changed along the way. Poutsma was able to start, but Velzeboer would lead Schulting. This tactic worked perfectly. “I didn’t expect any less,” Otter said with a smile that was so relieved.

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