Day 8: The Queen, the 10k, and Deafening Horns

As soon as we arrived at the rink after visiting the nearby windmill, the almost-most exciting occurrence of the day happened.  An announcement was made over the speaker that a very special visitor had come to watch the day’s skating … and soon it came out that the Queen Beatrix (Queen of the Netherlands) was at Thialf!  Of course she was sitting on the front stretch, on the opposite side from us, and I didn’t get a photo of her, but we did see her.  I’ve never been in the same room as a real queen, so it was an exciting first – even if the room was an extremely large one.

Our seats for the day were excellent; we were in the 2nd row, right at the 1000m start line, which was perfect since the first race of the day was the women’s 1000.  We got a very good view of the skaters’ preparations and starts.  Here’s Heather Richardson (on the inner lane, in black) about to skate against Irene Wust in the second-to-last pair.

She skated a good race and beat her pair by 3/100ths of a second, but just barely got edged off the podium by Margot Boer in the last pair….

The 1000s went quickly, but once the 10ks started, time dragged.  It’s usually that way for me when I’m waiting to watch Jonathan to skate – it’s a blur of nervousness and interminable waiting – but all the moreso during a 10k, when each pair lasts thirteen and a half minutes, and there’s a re-ice break every two pairs.  Jonathan was set to skate in the 5th pair out of 8, which meant more than an hour between the start of the 10ks and his actual race.

When it finally came around, I took a single photo, during the first lap, then abandoned my camera to cheering and clapping.  Here’s Jonathan and his pair, 14.5 seconds into a 13+ minute race:

He skated an extremely solid race, altogether – lap times in the low 31s for more than a third of the race – then his times rose a bit and hovered around 32s for a while, at which point we all held our breath, collectively, since that could mean a temporary blip before he brings them back down, or it could be the start of continually rising lap times.  This time – he pulled them back down, and ended with his last almost-two-miles with times in the mid 30s, for a final time of 13:12.66.  Not quite a personal best, but a really great race, especially for a track at sea level (where the air is thick and more difficult to get through at high speeds.)

The crowd was extremely excited; they’d been happy for his excellent performance the day before, and evidently had stocked up on gifts to toss onto the ice; he came away with a small menagerie of stuffed animals.  As he said, he thinks he was in the perfect position to be in their favor that weekend – doing well and performing strongly, but not skating quite fast enough to topple their favorites.

We were extremely excited and happy about Jonathan’s time … but unfortunately there were still 3 pairs and another re-ice yet to come, so we once again had to wait patiently.  The next pair broke the blur of waiting a little when the Belgian skater, Bart Swings, fell in his 22nd lap.  It was very painful to watch, especially since he was so close to the end of the race.  But what followed was even more painful, for me personally.

During the third re-ice, the band came right up in front of us and began to play.

They may look cheerfully innocent with their striped shirts and pleasant expressions, but – whoa.  Soon there was no more of this photo-snapping.  Some of us stood up and joined in the singing, dancing, and celebration (John), while some of us who had not reacted quickly enough in getting up and getting away before the music began hunkered down in their seats, certain that their eardrums were being blasted apart with each passing moment (me).

Keep in mind that I don’t have a zoom on my camera lens – they were really right there, maybe just a few yards away, playing with all their might.

Then when I thought it couldn’t get much worse – each brass played climbed up on one of the chairs that were right by the railing.

Again, this is not zoomed, and not cropped; the bell of that guy’s trumpet was about 4 feet from my ears.

It’s not as fun as it sounds.  I’m surprised I can still hear anything, actually.

At least they pointed their instruments upward, instead of straight at us.

I really hate to complain because I do love the bands, and the fun of listening and watching and singing along – from a distance.  And they have to stand in front of someone, right?  I think I’ve learned my lesson, though, and will enjoy them from further off in the future, but head to the top of the stands if I ever find myself that close again.

They did head off to the right eventually, at which point I began to enjoy them again….

After the third and final break, two pairs remained – and like the previous day, the last two pairs were comprised of some extremely tough competition.  In the first, Bob de Vries couldn’t match Jonathan’s time, but the other skater, Jorrit Bergsma, skated 12:57.  That’s not too surprising; he seems usually to skate it under 13.

At this point we faced a situation very similar to the previous day’s 5k, with two top skaters yet to go and Jonathan sitting precariously in 2nd – but it soon became clear that having sat out the previous day’s 5k hadn’t been enough for Havard Bokko to keep up his strength for the 10k.  He fell behind (clearly establishing Jonathan’s position on the podium) while the excitement of the remainder of the race was whether Bob de Jong could or couldn’t match Jorrit’s time.  He hadn’t started out particularly fast, but pulled his lap times down further and further, ending with an incredible 29.9 lap, for a final time of 12:53.

The crowd roared.

We were seated in the backstretch, where the coaches skate during the races, so had an excellent position on the post-race celebration – as Bob whipped around after the race ended, his coach stopped him and grabbed him for a victory hug.

The soon-following medal ceremony was again very fun to watch.  This is my best shot of it – the flags are being raised and you can see the scene from the opposite angle on the big screen.  (On the screen, Jonathan’s in black on the right.)

My parents, who had been whisked over to the upscale side after Jonathan’s race, had a better vantage point as well as a long zoom lens on Mom’s camera.

(Photo by David Kuck)

After the ceremony ended, we watched the women’s 5k (which Martina Sablikova won), then once again headed to Jonathan’s hotel for dinner and relaxation, as well as some picture-taking and divvying up of the stuffed animals.  My favorite moment of the evening was when Jonathan and Ryan headed outside to cool off – they’re so happy and goofy when they’re together, and really enjoy spending time with each other.  This shot captures a little of it, despite Ryan’s blurriness (from laughing too much during a long exposure).

We also talked with John and Julie Hansen, Brian’s parents, a little.

Fun fact: John and Julie are eerily like me and John.  Julie’s full name is actually Julianne, like mine, and they live in the Chicago area (where John and I lived for many years) – but strangest of all on this particular trip is that they had also traveled to Paris just before Heerenveen, and spent the exact same days and nights there that we had.  We didn’t have a chance to compare our exact schedules, but since both we and they spent a lot of time doing the standard tourist rounds, it’s quite possible we were all in the same place at the same time at some point during those four days.  The Louvre, maybe, or Notre Dame?  We’ll have to check with them next time we see them.

We didn’t linger very long – again, we’d had a long, fun, exciting, but tiring day and were glad to head back to our hotel to collapse.

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