Category archive: Speedskating

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Wednesday's lineup is all about the ladies. And hockey! But here in Canada, isn't it always about hockey?

Hockey: Men's Quarterfinals
Wednesday's quarterfinal play features a matchup between hockey's biggest superpowers, and hockey's biggest superstars: Canada vs. Russia, or Crosby vs. Ovechkin, depending on how you look at it. It's a game many thought would be the final, but Team USA's Sunday afternoon upset of Team Canada ruined those plans. The Americans, now the top seed, will play Switzerland. The Swiss are not to be taken lightly; they took the host country to a shootout in pool play. If the remaining favorites pull through the qualification round, Sweden will play Slovakia and the Finns will meet the Czechs.

Alpine Skiing: Women's Giant Slalom
Exactly four years ago Wednesday, Julia Mancuso surprised the world when she won gold in this event at Torino and donned a tiara at the medals ceremony. This year, Mancuso is hoping to repeat that performance at the venue where, in 2008, she earned her last World Cup podium. So far, Mancuso already has won two silver medals in three races at these Games and, because she decided not to compete in Friday's slalom race, GS is her final chance to earn an upgrade. Mancuso's U.S. teammate Lindsey Vonn said she felt great after Tuesday's practice runs, but she is not a favorite in this event. Of the five events she is racing, GS is Vonn's weakest. But that only means she has more to prove. Sarah Schleper de Gaxiola, who took two seasons off from racing and had a baby in 2008, enters the race as the highest-ranked U.S. skier in the field.

Women's Bobsled
After multiple crashes in training and competition -- and public comments made by female competitors that the track is too dangerous -- bobsled officials announced Monday that they were making modifications to the track, including the shaving of a minimum of 1 inch of ice from the 50-50 curve and alterations to Turn 13. Team USA's Shauna Rohbock, a medal favorite, was among the track's detractors. All three American sleds have been consistently in the top 10 in the world and are expected to contest for medals. Their toughest competition should come from the Canadians, who have spent more time on this track than any other sliders in the world and say they feel the most comfortable racing on it. Without the fear of crashing to distract them, that mindset should be a huge advantage in Wednesday's finals.

Speedskating: Women's 5,000m
Although the two American women competing in the 5,000 meters -- Jilleanne Rookard and Maria Lamb -- are not medal hopefuls, they are certainly names worth knowing. Rookard lost her mother to cancer two months ago, shortly after finding out she had qualified for the Olympic team, and is racing here in her honor. Lamb, a St. Paul, Minn., native, is one of 20 athletes from Minnesota competing in Vancouver. (The state with the second-most athletes is New York, with 18.) But the spotlight will be shining the brightest on Canadian racer Clara Hughes, 37, the defending gold medalist from Torino who took bronze in the distance in 2002. Hughes has the distinction of being the only athlete to win multiple medals at the summer and winter Olympics. (She took bronze in two cycling events in Atlanta in 1996.) On Wednesday, she has an opportunity to make even more history.

Short-Track Speedskating: Women's 3,000m relay
Anyone who has set foot in Pacific Coliseum for a short-track race knows, aside from the Canadians and Americans, the South Koreans bring the loudest cheering section. That won't change Wednesday, when the South Korean team attempts to win its fifth straight Olympic gold in the women's 3,000m relay. Strong teams from China, Canada and the U.S. hope to stop that streak. Team USA is led by first-time Olympian Katherine Reutter of Champaign, Ill., who hopes to make up for the misstep that cost her a medal in the 1,500 meters. Reutter's teammates -- Allison Baver, who made an amazing comeback from an accident in 2008 that left her with multiple fractures in her right leg, Kimberly Derrick, Alyson Dudek and Lana Gehring -- are all coming off strong World Cup seasons.

RICHMOND, British Columbia -- Dozens of amazing speedskaters have come and gone in the last 35 years. The world record in the longest men's race, the 10,000 meters, has come down more than two minutes; nearly three seconds have been carved from the fastest time in the 500-meter event. Hinged clapskates have revolutionized the sport.

SpeedSkatingBandJasper Juinen/Getty ImagesKleintje Pils has been entertaining sports fans for decades.

Only one thing has remained a constant: The rollicking oom-pah band playing for fans at major world events, which goes by the name Kleintje Pils, or "little beer." As their Web site says, they are "a pastime that has got out of hand."

The 11-piece group, which features a tuba, a euphonium, three slide trombones, four trumpets, one snare drum and a bass drum with cymbals, began making part-time music together in the Netherlands in 1975. All five original members are still in the band.

"We know each other longer than our wives at home," said bandleader Rudolf Bakker, a real estate agent who moonlights as the bass drum basher.

The boys in the band, clad in their unmistakable harlequin-esque jerseys and wooden shoes, were waiting out Monday's ice resurfacing crisis at the Richmond Oval with equanimity, posing for pictures with fans and watching television monitors in the lobby as International Skating Union officials -- all of whom band members easily identified by name -- debated their options.

These part-time musicians have played for speedskating crowds at multiple Winter Olympics and World Championships and World Cup events throughout the world, but their range isn't limited to one sport. Kleintje Pils has gigged on the Champs-Elysees in Paris during the final stage of the Tour de France; at the 1994 soccer World Cup in the United States and at the European championships. The band performed for the late Pope John Paul II and at the royal wedding of Dutch crown prince Willem-Alexander and his bride, Princess Maxima.

Yet for a time, it looked as if they wouldn't make the trip to Vancouver. Olympic organizers here at first thought they might use local talent, but feedback from fans at a test event told them otherwise. Finally, Vancouver Olympic Committee officials told the band that if they could cover their own travel expenses, organizers would provide lodging. Bakker said the band was able to get corporate support to defray costs and chipped in their own money as well. All 11 are bunking in together at a house near the Oval.

Their job may look easy, but Bakker said there's more than meets the eye in making their "hobby" look professional. The band has 350 songs in its repertoire and has mastered the art of "When to start, when to stop, what the audience likes," Bakker said.

If you think that follows cultural norms, you're partly right. "Hey Jude" is a favorite of fans everywhere, but especially the Americans; the Italians favor the traditional "Funiculý, FuniculÓ;" and the Japanese go wild over "La Cucaracha" because it's got a fast beat and they can dance to it. Go figure.

Bakker said he never puts together a set list, but decides what the next number will be as he's playing the previous one. "It's all improvisation," he said. "It makes it difficult for us, but it also means [we] stay sharp. It's all real, from hearts, pure."