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Champagne on ice: the mystery and myths behind Dutch skating success

Dutch fans take great pleasure in attempts to make sense of their dominance, particularly the frozen-canals theory

Nicholas Tomalin reckoned that the three qualities a journalist needs to succeed are rat-like cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability, none of which are much use when you’re trying to tell a salchow from a toe-loop on a tight deadline. During the Winter Olympics it pays to be a quick study, too. Particularly in Britain, where the usual recreational activities in winter are football, baking potatoes and having a national freak-out about each smattering of snow. Because the first week of the Games always provokes perplexing questions, like why are the Dutch so damn good at speed skating?

As of Monday, the Netherlands had won 117 medals in the Winter Olympics. One was in snowboarding. One was in short track skating. Three were in figure skating. And 111 were in speed skating. In the first three days of this Games the Netherlands won six of the nine speed skating medals available. Which means they’re already halfway to their medal target of 12, and there are nine days of competition still to go. In Sochi in 2014 they won 23 of the sport’s 36 medals, which was reckoned to be the single most dominant performance by a country in any sport, at any Olympics.

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