After we picked up our rental car in Amsterdam, we headed immediately to Heerenveen. We had 4 hours, which we estimated would be plenty of time to arrive, find the Thialf, eat some lunch, and be in our seats for the start of the racing, but we didn’t want to take any chances. John drove the whole way, while I got to admire the scenery – farmland and windmills …
… and sheep …
… and elephants.
We didn’t have a detailed map of Heerenveen; having heard that it was a small town, we assumed that finding our way to Thialf would be straightforward, and I had looked at google maps earlier to get a general idea of the town’s layout. It all worked out fine; we got off the highway earlier than necessary, but that decision was a wash. The drive to the oval was a little longer, yes; but we got to see fluffy wonderful sheep and tiny lambs at the side of the road, so
we I didn’t mind the extra time.
We arrived very early at Thialf, so much so that we got an extremely close parking spot – just steps away from the oval’s own lot – which was a very good thing, because at this point both of us were quite ready for lunch. (This is turning into a recurring blog theme … How We Haven’t Yet Learned To Eat Lunch On Time.) But no problem, we thought – we’d hop over to Thialf and pick something up. We were so excited, both at the prospect of forthcoming food, and that we were finally at a place we’d heard so much about, and from which we’d watched so many live-streamed races online.
Maybe it doesn’t look like much from here, but Thialf is where many of the biggest meets are held; it’s the heart of speedskating in the Netherlands, which, as a country, is the heart of speedskating in the world. I said in an earlier post that Thialf is speedskating’s Mecca, and I think it’s still an appropriate description. There are other major ovals where top competitions are held with some regularity (the oval in Hamar, Norway, and those at high altitude in Calgary and Salt Lake City where world records often are set come to mind) but none that I know of is as large or as regularly packed full of fans.
Unfortunately, lunch at Thialf was not as forthcoming as we’d hoped. This was the moment when we first ran into trouble with our non-microchipped American debit cards, which the cafeteria would not accept. We’d just used our last euros on parking, so off we went on foot on an ATM-finding mission – there isn’t one at the oval, surprisingly enough. Not having enough cash in hand was another not-best decision of the day, but it also turned out fine. The walk was nice; we saw some familiar faces – American skaters and coaches were arriving at the oval on the back side – and passed some more beautiful crocuses, which of course I had to stop and photograph.
We also passed two older men riding side-by-side on a two person recumbent tricycle, which I previously did not even known existed.
After a quick lunch that we picked at random off the menu, hoping the items would taste good (which they did – fries, a sandwich, some sort of cheese item), we headed toward the seating areas, and immediately ran into the rest of my family. Mom, Dad, and Ryan had spent the first part of the week touring Amsterdam and other parts of Holland; we were all meeting up together for the championships! We found our seats, and I immediately commenced annoying the three new family members by incessantly taking their photos, while John breathed a sigh of relief.
Mom’s all decked out in her Team USA hat:
… Dad’s wearing his Sochi Olympics 2014 shirt, signed by various skaters:
… and Ryan’s wearing a suspicious expression.
I have a large number of photographs of him looking at me like that.
I’m not sure why.
It turns out though that just because other human subjects were readily available, John wasn’t off the hook.
He looks happy for having had a temporary reprieve, doesn’t he? I think he was also excited for the upcoming 1500.
Eventually the racing started, so everyone finally got a real break from my portrait-taking practice; we watched the women’s 3000 and the men’s 1500. I didn’t get any good photos, since my camera is not really set up for indoor action shots. (My maximum aperture is 16mm/2.8.) But it was cool to see Jonathan skating in real time with the overhead TV showing a different angle, which I tried to capture.
Most of the times we’ve been to watch him skate in real life, it’s at rinks like Salt Lake City where there’s no such thing as a giant instant-reply screen overhead.
Jonathan placed 7th, with what we all thought was a pretty good time, but I think he was hoping to do better. (Hint: this may be a safe rule of thumb – if he didn’t come in first, he was probably hoping to do better.)
(I’m just teasing him a little, although I think that might be not totally inaccurate. But I do know that sometimes he’s happy with his time despite his placement, and sometimes he’s not so pleased with his time despite placing well.)
After he’d cooled down and changed, he came over to the stands for a while to sit with us, which was very nice.
John and I hadn’t seen him since August, so we all said our hellos and caught up while the women raced.
(Martina Sablikova won, which is no surprise.
She’s absolutely the fastest woman in the longer distances.)
We were interrupted several times by Dutch fans. Ever since Jonathan came in 2nd at All-Arounds two years ago, he’s been a celebrity in Holland – maybe not among the general population, but at least for speedskating fans, and certainly in Thialf.
The men in the family soon decided to pretend my camera didn’t exist….
…although Mom was still willing to pose. Thanks Mom!
After the day’s races were over, we went back to Jonathan’s hotel for dinner and more catching up.
We’d just come from Paris, Jonathan from 7 weeks of traveling all over Europe, Russia, and Kazakstan, and the others from Amsterdam, so there were lots of stories and experiences floating around, waiting to be shared. The entire US team was staying in the same place, so we also got to catch up a little with others like Brian (Hansen), Jonathan’s friend and longtime skating compeer.
After a tasty dinner we all retired to our respective hotels, to relax and prepare for another exciting day of speedskate-spectating!