Families attend together to cheer, volunteer, and visit Canada
For Monica and Jeanette de Jonge, their first visit to Canada was a memorable one.
Renting a car upon arriving in Calgary from their native Netherlands, the sisters visited Lake Louise, Banff, and Kananaskis.
"Our visit has been perfect," Monica de Jonge says.
But viewing the splendour of the Canadian Rocky Mountains wasn't the only impetus for the sisters' visit.
The de Jonges were among the throngs of Dutch fans who packed the stands at the 2012 Essent ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championships held Jan. 28-29 at the Olympic Oval.
"It has been a dream of mine for a long time to visit the Olympic Oval in Calgary," Jeanette de Jonge says.
Speed skating serious business for Dutch
To call the Dutch speed skating fans enthusiastic would be an understatement.
Decked out in face paint, crazy hats, wigs and a bewildering array of orange clothing, they created a party atmosphere by waving flags and tooting on plastic horns.
When Dutch speed skater Stefan Groothuis was crowned world champion after two days of racing, they danced and sang loudly while waiting for him to mount the victory stand.
But despite their intense national pride in their own athletes, the Dutch were very congenial fans. They cheered just as loudly when Christina Nesbitt of Canada and Jing Yu of China both set world records during the course of the competition.
"It's a very kind, friendly and public audience," Monica de Jonge says. "We become almost a family."
"It doesn't matter which country you are from, you are invited to join in with us. We hope that skaters from the Netherlands will win, but we are also happy for Nesbitt for her world record."
Father and son volunteer together
Alexander Schouten, who moved to Canada from the Netherlands in 2005 and now lives in Strathmore, says it is not uncommon to see 15,000 to 20,000 spectators at speed skating competitions held in that country.
"They cheer for everybody," he says.
Schouten worked as a volunteer in the media centre during the world championships. He says that over half of the members of the media covering the event were from the Netherlands.
"There are a lot of Dutch media, so it makes it a little bit easier to have somebody who speaks the language around," Schouten says. "Every major newspaper is here, as well as all the Dutch TV stations."
He says he volunteered for the event because it provided a "remarkable" opportunity to see speedskating up close.
Schouten was visibly moved as the Dutch national anthem was played in Groothuis' honour during the event's award ceremony.
"To hear your anthem played makes it even better."
His experience was made all the more special by the fact that his 10-year-old son Taron spent the weekend volunteering beside him.
"It's been wonderful," Schouten says. "I think it's important for him to know what volunteering is all about."
"It's a chance to help out and be part of the community. We moved here in 2005 and the best way to find your way around in a new country is to be a part of it. He also wanted to see the speed skating. It's part of his heritage. It was important to him, so he wanted to do it."
Large Dutch community in Calgary
Robert Albricht, who attended the event accompanied by his nine-year-old son Nikolai, has Dutch parents and lived in the Netherlands for 10 years himself.
He was among many Calgarians in the crowd who have a Dutch background. Attending major international speedskating events held at the Oval has become a tradition for Albricht and his family.
"We've been to three speedskating events and we have lived here for four years. So we come pretty much every year," he said.
Albricht, who contributed to the spirit of the crowd by wearing an orange T-shirt and a blow-up hat topped with a windmill, says he believes the appeal of speed skating is its simplicity.
"It looks so simple and effortless."
|• Number of Countries: 19
• Number of Competitors: 71
• Events contested: 500m and 1000m
• Overall results calculation: each competitor races both distances twice. The lowest combined time over the four races is the winner.
• 2012 World Sprint Speed Skating champions:
Women: Jing Yu (China)
Men: Stefan Groothuis (Netherlands)
• Canadian results (overall standing)
Christine Nesbitt — 2nd
Kaylin Irvine — 23rd
Shannon Rempel — 25th
Jamie Gregg — 9th
Muncef Ouardi — 10th
Denny Morrison — 13th
But he says seeing the sport live offers a much different experience than viewing it on TV — where it's difficult to "get a sense of the speed."
"Being here, it's mind-blowing how fast it is."
Albricht attributes the boisterous nature of the Dutch fans to the fact that speed skaters from the Netherlands have been very successful on the world stage.
"They are always right there at the top, contending for gold medals and world record times," he says. "So when you are the best at something for a generation, people take the sport very seriously."
Although outnumbered by the sea of orange, a few red-clad Canadian supporters could be spotted in the crowd — among them, Vanessa D'Souza and her four-year-old son Kai Mooahy.
While D'Souza had previously attended a World Cup speedskating event held at the Olympic Oval, it was young Kai's first exposure to the sport.
"He just started skating lessons, so I thought this would be a really fun way to get him interested in skating," D'Souza says. "He's new to skating and he really loves Canada. I figured this was a great environment for him to learn how to cheer for our home country."
Click here to view a photo gallery of the 2012 Essent ISU World Sprint Speed Skating Championships
- By Karry Taylor