The Ski League must choose between two successful national coaches: Otter or Kerstholt

Current national team coach Nils Kerstolt (left).Image Klaas Jan van der Weij / de Volkskrant

1. What is the problem?

After this winter, the ski federation faces a choice: return to the success formula of former national coach Jeroen Otter or continue with the new momentum of current coach Nils Kerstolt. It’s a luxury problem that the KNSB Ski Association has brought upon itself.

After the Beijing Winter Games, Otter needed a little rest. KNSB granted the successful coach a leave of absence. He has been serving as a “voice board” and selection committee member one day a week. They did not want to lose Otter’s knowledge.

About the author

Eric van Likerveld has been writing about Olympic sports such as speed skating, athletics and rowing since 2016.

Former short tracker Niels Kerstolt, a former Otter pupil, was appointed as a replacement. He was awarded a one-year contract with the intention of extending it until the 2026 Winter Games. Head coach Rémy de Wit stressed that Kersholt was not an interim national coach.

For example, the Skating Association planted a seed for turmoil, because the intention was also for Otter to return a year later, as the exact role was not stated. The 59-year-old boss left him in the middle for a long time whether he really wanted to. He’s been flirting with the prospect of a team trade, but told NOS last weekend that no lender has come forward.

Jeroen Otter, former national team coach who is on sabbatical this season.  Image Klaas Jan van der Weij / de Volkskrant

Jeroen Otter, former national team coach who is on sabbatical this season.Image Klaas Jan van der Weij / de Volkskrant

2. What argues for Otter?

No one has as much experience and few coaches are as successful in the short track as 59-year-old Otter. In the 1980s, he was on the ice himself and won gold at the World Cup several times with the men’s relay team. Decades of coaching around the world followed. At the Beijing Olympics, he coached the women’s relay to the title. He called him Great.

In the Netherlands, he patiently built short-track speed skating, which has long been considered the crazy little brother of long-track speed skating. Internationally, the Dutch were already in if they survived the qualifying round. Otter has provided a comprehensive training programme, a well-equipped national training center in Heerenveen and thus a worldwide success.

It was men who were the first to win awards: the world title in the relay in 2014, the gold of the World Cup for Senki Kneigt in 2015. But it was also he who helped Jürien ter Morse win the gold in the long distance and the Olympic medal in the short. And who managed to make Suzanne Scholting almost invincible in this unpredictable sport with five Olympic medals, including three golds.

3. What is he arguing with Kerstolt?

The 39-year-old Kersholt has had a pretty good job. Continuing Otter’s successes was no easy feat, but Kersholt did. This past weekend’s World Cup in Seoul was the most successful in Dutch short track history. No fewer than five of the nine titles to be won have gone to the Netherlands. Unique was the “clean sweep” in the women’s 500m, with Xandra Villzebuer, Scholting and Selma Boutzma.

That’s a trait of Kerstholt anyway: He’s got the short track team to perform across the board. Not only Scholting, but also Felizbur, who won gold four times in Seoul. Jens van ‘t Wout broke through the men under him. He took bronze in the 500m and won three World Cups earlier this winter.

Kersholt has shown himself to be a coach who knows how to get a wide range at a high level and win awards right away in his first year. You don’t find it easily.

4. How do skaters see it?

One man is very vocal about his preferences: Sjinkie Knegt. In February, the 33-year-old Frisian called the current coaching staff a mess and had to apologize for that later. In Seoul he opened his mouth again because, according to him, Kersholt lacked a plan for relief. As far as he’s concerned, Otter would rather be back today than tomorrow.

The young goalkeeper, with world champion Velzeboer and bronze Van ‘t Wout up front, pulls away with Kerstholt. This winter they’ll see his approach pay off in shiny cash and medals. Veterans such as Yara Van Kerkhove and Itzak De Lat also announced earlier this winter that they are very satisfied.

Schulting is hanging between them. She agreed with Knegt’s criticism a month earlier, though she expressed herself more diplomatically. For her, Otter has been a beacon of peace and confidence for almost her entire short life. She has been in constant contact with him over the past year and his presence in the stands in Seoul has helped her on her way to her victory in the 1500 metres. You’ll feel much more comfortable when he returns to the climb right away, because he’s stuck with that single title. In any case, Scholting, a former multiple winner, had a difficult season.

5. Is there a middle way?

Earlier this winter, Otter said it would be smart to expand the directing staff, which now consists of Kersholt and her assistants Annie Sarratt and Kip Carpenter. Now that Dutch short trackers are becoming more and more successful, they are hard to manage for a single trainer.

But two head coaches? This sounds like a recipe for trouble. To split into two teams, the national selection of 17 skaters, including Otter’s daughter Anne Floor, is too small. It is also questionable whether Kerstholt was willing to give up some of his responsibilities.

In any case, it remains unclear at the moment if Otter wants to. He’s very knowledgeable as a national coach, and he’s a guy who looks for challenges. He can’t move up at KNSB: Wilf O’Reilly and Rémy de Wit hold the positions of short-term discipline director and technical director.

At first glance, there is no obvious choice to keep the two men happy on board, but a clever ploy may have been devised at the union office.

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