The Netherlands had enjoyed a perfect start to the 2018 Winter Olympics on the speed skating track. Five events, five gold medals. But just hours before it went for a sixth on Thursday, fresh revelations about a race four years ago provided an unwelcome distraction.
The favorite and defending champion in Thursday’s 10-kilometer race was Jorrit Bergsma. Bergsma’s coach is Jillert Anema. And on the day of the race, the Dutch Olympic committee confirmed that four years ago, Anema attempted to fix a race at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Anema, who is Dutch, was in charge of the French pursuit team at the time. Prior to a race that featured the overmatched French and the favored Netherlands squad, Anema approached his Dutch counterpart and essentially asked him to have his team take it easy, according to a report from Dutch newspaper Volkskrant. In exchange, Anema reportedly offered guaranteed Dutch victory, as long as it was not by a wide margin.
The motives here are complex. One of Anema’s French skaters was reportedly sick. He knew his team had no shot. He also reportedly knew that if his team got lapped in the race, it risked losing funding from the French government. Anema, according to the report, basically sought to ensure his team finished the race – as opposed to being lapped and disqualified.
But the offer was immediately rejected by the Dutch coach, Arie Koops, who reported it to Dutch officials.
“I was flabbergasted when it came, surprised that such a question could be asked,” Koops said Thursday, recalling the request. “I told him, ‘No. I came here to win. I will not adapt my strategy to others.'”
Dutch officials received Koops’ report and reprimanded Anema in a written warning, but kept the warning private, and seemingly tried to keep the story under wraps. It was, however, uncovered four years later, and the Dutch Olympic committee was forced to admit to issuing the warning. It even published the letter.
The story has nothing to do with Bergsma, who broke his own Olympic record in the 10K, but was beaten by Dutch-born Canadian Ted-Jan Bloemen. Bloemen ended his native country’s golden start in PyeongChang.
But the Dutch skating federation and the Olympic committee have bigger problems to attend to. This story will likely dog them, and more so Anema, for a while.
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