Day 9: 500s and Team Pursuit

After a brief, final morning exploring Heerenveen, we headed to Thialf for the final races of the WSDCs – the 500s and the Team Pursuit.  It promised to be a fun day for us, since the 500s are fun and move along quickly – and more importantly, Jonathan had already gotten two individual medals under his belt, and the American men’s TP team seemed likely to reach the podium, so we were feeling a little less stress than before as personally-interested spectators.

On our walk over, John, Ryan and I passed a table offering stuffed animals (to throw onto the ice for one’s favorite skater) in exchange for a donation to a cancer fundraiser, and the small pink gorilla was too much for me to resist.  We thought it would be a nice addition to Jonathan’s collection from the previous afternoon’s 10k, and it was for a good cause – why not?

(Sorry for the warped-ish photo, but it’s the only one I took.  You’ll have to believe me that Ryan and John don’t actually have heads that skew toward the corners like that, and that mine is not relatively so small.  The gorilla looks pretty accurate.)

I think our pink friend enjoyed watching the races, until he met his ill-fated end later that day.

The racing started with the 500s, which move quickly and are quite exciting.  Each skater races twice and the times are added together; the fastest combined times win.  Unfortunately the American’s were just edged out of the medal contention in the end; Heather Richardson came in 4th among the women, and Tucker Fredericks was 5th in the men’s races.

During one of the re-ice breaks, we were again treated to an oompah band performance -Blauhuster Dakkapel this time.

This time though, I was able to enjoy the experience, unlike the previous day – for one thing, we were quite a bit further up, maybe in the 5th row or so instead of the 2nd – and  we were also offset from the brass section a good 20 feet.

It made quite a difference.

The women’s Team Pursuit came next in line after the 500s, and the US team was in the first pair…

They were fun to watch, although unfortunately they didn’t skate a fast enough time to be in medal contention.

(The Dutch women, who skated in the second pair, won.

Canada came in second, and Poland just squeaked by Russian in the final pair for the bronze.)

Then came a part of the competition that I’d never seen before.  As the Zambonis circled the ice for their final resurfacing, the overhead screens featured their drivers.

One driver was interviewed on center ice…

… while the crowd gave the entire Zamboni crew a standing ovation.

The drivers’ jobs are certainly important, and if done incorrectly, can hold up a race for extended periods of time until the racers and coaches are satisfied with the ice’s condition – but I’ve never seen them recognized in such a way before.

Finally it was time for the men’s team pursuit (and last race of the weekend).  Norway and Canada began with very respectable times…

followed by Russia which beat Canada’s time by almost second (and ultimately placed 3rd).

The formidable Dutch came in the 3rd pair.

The US beat them in the Olympics in the second round, shutting them out from the gold medal final, and they now seem to have a team pursuit vendetta against the US (or possibly against the world).  I don’t blame them – I think that they were a strong team two years ago that didn’t quite have its act together, and lost out – and they don’t want to have it happen again.

They skated extremely fast, almost 2 seconds ahead of the Russians’ time.

The final pair pitted the Koreans against the US team, which consisted of Jonathan, Shani, and Brian.  I’m not sure why those teams were matched up in the draw, but Korea quickly fell behind while the Americans kept up a respectable pace, eventually finishing in 2nd place.  They did not have the home-field advantage of the Dutch in their beloved Thialf (The crowd was eerily quiet, in fact.) – nor do they have much chance of practicing together as a team – so their 2nd place finish was pretty great.  Not that we wouldn’t have been happy with the gold, but we were perfectly pleased with the silver.

I didn’t get any good photos of them; their start line was on the front stretch, and my lens isn’t fast enough for indoor action shots, but here’s what I have.

The Americans are skating, the Dutch team (with their super-fast time already secured) are watching from center ice, and absolutely nothing is in focus.  Oh well.

Unfortunately, after the race ended and the Americans glided their half-lap over to where we sat was almost the exact moment that the Dutch stepped back onto the ice for their victory laps, so when we threw our small pink friend onto the ice there was a confusion of American and Dutch skaters all together, and everyone assumed that the various items on the ice were all for the Dutch, since they’d won.  Oh well – even if the little guy is now a POW in the enemy camp, at least we contributed something to a good cause.

Jonathan did get a picture that a little kid had drawn for him (I think).

Maybe if we’d done that, he would have come over to talk to him and he’d have gotten the gorilla….

… but I don’t think so.  Later, when the crowds cleared out, we walked around the oval to where Jonathan was sitting (still on center ice) and by waving and shouting, got his attention.  He politely waved back, and remained where he was.  We thought that was all well and good, since he was needing to cool down and pack up his things and so on, until some of his adoring fans in Orange waved to him and he ran right across the ice to them.

We ran over to where he was, trying to get his attention too we could congratulate and hug him.

Can you spot John and Ryan?  John is pretty obvious, but Ryan for some unknown reason bizarrely decided to wear an orange shirt that day.  (And I spent the entire day continually losing him.  Since the Dutch are so completely orange-clad, my normal mode of keeping track of our family is to block out the orange and only take note of what stands out against it.  “OH NO, we lost Ryan!” got old after about the 50th time.  Tip: if you’re not Dutch, wearing orange in Thialf will cause your family members to play a headache-inducing day-long game of Where’s Waldo.)

At any rate, we continued to be ignored.  Don’t we count as adoring fans, Jonathan?  I bet we three traveled a lot farther than they did…

But soon enough he spotted us and graciously accepted hugs and congratulations, and all was forgiven and forgotten.

Unfortunately our Thialf experience ended on a somewhat less savory note.  We’d made plans again to meet back at Jonathan’s hotel for dinner, and as we exited the oval cheerful and light of heart after the day’s races, we noticed something … odd … about the placement of certain conveniences.

A question to ponder: If you have made the choice to rent open-air, unenclosed urinals for your major sporting event, what on earth might possess you to place said open-air amenities directly underneath the grated openwork metal staircase leading in and out of the stadium?

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