“Great news for the sport of Speed Skating,” said Sven Kramer about the Hub concept in Heerenveen in January 2021. The ISU European Speed Skating Championships in Heerenveen on January 16-17 will be the first international competition for the Speed Skaters this season and the event will be followed by two subsequent ISU World Cup Speed Skating competitions in the same hub. The athletes are happy to come out and race internationally at last.
Sven Kramer (NED) at the ISU European Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
The Dutch National Championships, which were held in a Heerenveen Hub in the first weekend of November, were a testcase for the international hub in January. “Of course this weekend has been very important on the way to this decision,” Sven Kramer (NED) said in a statement on Twitter.
“Everyone was watching this event closely. A big thumbs up to all the Skaters and staff, the KNSB (Dutch Federation) and House of Sports (organizing agency) for setting up this successful competition. The European Championships and the subsequent World Cup competitions are a great reward. We’re happy with this important ISU decision. It’s great to be able to have major competitions in these uncertain times.”
Kramer’s compatriot and Dutch record Olympian Ireen Wüst (NED) couldn’t agree more. She tweeted: “Top news from the ISU! Two World Cups in a Thialf bubble in January. Great to see that the Speed Skating calendar is slowly coming together.. Really looking forward to it!”
Top nieuws vanuit de ISU! Begin januari worden er twee World Cups georganiseerd in een Thialf bubbel. 🤩 Goed om te zien dat de schaatskalender zich langzaamaan begint te vullen. Heel veel zin in! 😄#thegreenteam pic.twitter.com/mjBi3Ut1w6— Ireen Wüst (@Ireenw) November 5, 2020
Most countries have been able to organize national Speed Skating championships under COVID-19 restrictions, but the lack of international competition has had its impact. Håvard Lorentzen (NOR) won the Norwegian 500m and 1000m titles in Hamar. He said: “It’s good to be able to compete, but those races at home are not as exciting as competing with the best skaters of the world. It’s hard to get that last adrenaline rush going, to get that tiny bit of extra nerve.”
The Olympic 500m Champion looks forward to being able to compete in the Heerenveen Hub in January and is prepared to lock himself up in the bubble: “It’s smart to bring some stuff that keeps you occupied if we’re going into lockdown, a couple of books, a PlayStation.” Lorentzen might even bring his guitar to bide the time in between races.
Sverre Lunde Pedersen (NOR) did not compete in the Norwegian championships. He was sick but was tested negative for COVID-19 and recovered quickly form his cold. He’s looking forward to international competition too: “I find the new hub very interesting and hopefully we can make it happen. It will be strange and sad not to race World Cups this fall, so I will be really happy if we can race again in January.”
Paweł Abratkiewicz at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (NED) 2017©International Skating Union (ISU)
Paweł Abratkiewicz (POL), coach of the Russian national Ladies’ team, would be happy if his athletes would be able to compete internationally again in January, but he’s not so sure yet. “I really hope that it will go ahead, but you never know in these times. Then again, I do think it should go ahead if you see what’s possible in other sports. Cycling can hold a Tour de France and a Giro d’Italia and international football is possible too, so why not Speed Skating?”
Abratkiewicz is already anticipating on the many difficulties his team will encounter when travelling to Heerenveen for the hub. “At the moment there’s no airplane traffic between Russia and Europe and we’ll have to deal with visa and COVID-tests. It won’t be easy, but it would be great for the athletes to get back to international competition.”