Thialf ice rink during the 2021 Daikin Dutch Single Distances Championships in Heerenveen (NED) @GettyImages
Tennis has the holy grass of Wimbledon, Judo has the Budokan in Tokyo and Speed Skating has Thialf in Heerenveen (NED). The stadium is famous for the large crowds, cheering for every single rider at big championships, but it’s also one of the most high-tech Speed Skating facilities around the world. Since 2019, Thialf has been an ISU Center of Excellence and in 2022 this label was extended for another four years - now with the Dutch Speed Skating Federation KNSB in the lead.
"As one of the big national federations we want to contribute to the development of our sport in general,” KNSB technical director Remy de Wit explains. Initially the KNSB was not involved with Thialf's Center of Excellence, but the Dutch Federation joined forces with the stadium last year to extend the label for a longer period of time. De Wit: “The Netherlands is a big nation in Speed Skating and in Short Track too, and we feel it has a responsibility to help and develop the sport internationally.” The federation works together with the regional foundations ‘Stichting Topschaatsen Fryslân’ (STF), ‘Topsport NOORD’ and Thialf Stadium itself.
The Dutch Jumbo Skating Team skates during a training session in 2021 in Thialf (NED) @GettyImages
The ISU has granted the label "Center of Excellence" to eleven ice-skating entities around the World, including five centers focusing on Short Track Speed Skating and Speed Skating: Calgary (CAN), Salt Lake City (USA), Beijing (CHN) and Font-Romeu (FRA, only Short Track).
The involvement of the regional foundations helps setting up a wide range of training possibilities for international Speed Skaters. “In long track we can offer training groups at many different levels,” De Wit explains. “There are Skaters at world level, Dutch national level and regional level, which means that any Skater from another country will be able to join a training group that fits. We can offer tailor-made programs.”
In Short Track, training is different from Speed Skating, because it’s often pack style racing. “You need more athletes to be able to train at the same level,” De Wit explains. “Integrating international Skaters into the existing programs is a bit more difficult. Therefore we set up five training camps for international Skaters for next season.”
In the future, Thialf’s Center of Excellence will also work together with the Jaap Eden-baan in Amsterdam, the oldest artificial skating track in the Netherlands. The Jaap Eden-baan comprises an outdoor 400 track and an indoor Short Track rink. “Amsterdam is the perfect place for short training camps. You can get to the ice from Amsterdam Airport in twenty minutes,” De Wit explains.
Het is vanaf zaterdag 16 oktober weer mogelijk om te schaatsen!— Jaap Eden IJsbaan (@JaapEden) August 11, 2021
We hebben maar een advies: Volg de laatste serie van de zomertrainingen en laat je in 6 weken klaarstomen voor de eerste meters op het ijs.
Meer info en inschrijven: https://t.co/WKvwqV6p6Z pic.twitter.com/XSh32EPt3M
The main ambition of the Dutch Federation is international development. De Wit: “The Center of Excellence does not aim at our national top skaters. It’s main purpose is to facilitate skaters from around the world with the best possible training accommodation.”