Dordrecht is a little town with a big history. It’s the oldest city in Holland, being granted city rights all the way back in 1220. It’s also the site of the Union of Dordrecht, when in 1572 twelve Dutch cities joined forces to resist Spanish rule under the command of William of Orange.
And, in 2012, 120,000-strong Dordrecht joined the likes of Shanghai, Calgary and Moscow as a venue for the Short Track World Cup.
Not that you would know it; no posters decorated the town, and the nightly news was too obsessed with the long-track World Cup over in Norway. Yes, the Dutchies prefer the long-track, because they’re good at it.
The short-track, though, is much more exciting. It’s the type you’ve probably seen on telly, and yes it’s the version briefly famous in Australia after Steven Bradbury dramatically won the country’s first gold ever at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Paul and I went to the long-track last year and there wasn’t a single Aussie in the line-up. This time, their website featured a whole team of Aussies. Finally, I thought, my Aussie flag can finally be brought out of the drawers.
Unfortunately, the Aussies didn’t turn up. They all went home after Calgary, I figured as they weren’t doing so hot (not enough competitors were falling over I suppose) and the Australian Institute of Sport couldn’t justify the costs. So I had to cheer for the Dutchies.
Last year at the long-track, the Dutchies won just about everything. That’s why the sport’s popular here. Not so much the short-track. It’s dominated by Koreans and Canadians, and even two Indians made the journey to Dordrecht, I cared to note. Take that, AIS.
If the long-track is test cricket, short-track is Twenty20. It’s fast, brash, and has lots of collisions, just like runs, sixes and wickets. Competitors choose the intro music, and the lighting effects entertain the crowd. It was so much fun that Paul and I came back the next day for more.
The crowd was desperate for Dutch success. They thought they’d get it in the men’s 1000m, with the final made up of three Dutchies and one sole Canadian. And they thought they’d done it when Sjinkie Knecht threw his arms up in the air when he crossed the line. Only problem was, the Canadian stretched his foot out at the last minute, crossing microseconds before Sjinkie. Dordrecht had gotten its headline, but for all the wrong reasons.
So everyone was holding their breath for the relays. The Dutch hadn’t gotten a single gold for the entire season, and had one last chance. After the women failed, the Dutch men lined up against the Koreans (Olympic champions), Canadians (world champions) and Russians (all-round bad guys). The Dutchies had to channel Steven Bradbury to even have a chance.
It all looked doomed from the start, with the Dutchies trailing behind the formidable trio. Before long though, the Russians fell. One down.
A cat-and-mouse game ensued with the Canadians. The Dutchies caught them, and lost them again. And caught them. And pulled ahead, pushed on by the crowd absolutely going bonkers. They had the Koreans within sight, but that was all. The gap was narrowed, but still a gap. Three laps to go. Two. Then the last lap. The last corner… and it was too much for the Koreans. Perhaps derailed by their own enthusiasm, they spun out and fell taking that last corner, with the Dutchies remaining on their feet and taking gold.
And so the spirit of Steven Bradbury lives on. In the form of four men in orange lycra, in a little town with a big history.