Dutch stars on speedskates; bad in figure skating

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Photo - Coach Arie Koops gives two thumbs-up to his riders Sven Kramer, left, Jan Blokhuijsen, center and Koen Verweij, right, after their men's speedskating team pursuit semifinal race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Coach Arie Koops gives two thumbs-up to his riders Sven Kramer, left, Jan Blokhuijsen, center and Koen Verweij, right, after their men's speedskating team pursuit semifinal race at the Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — The Dutch are already looking beyond their stunning success on the big oval and are concentrating on something on ice they are actually bad at — figure skating.

With 21 of 30 speedskating medals going into Saturday's final medal races, the Dutch realize there is no more measure of growth there, but still are hungry to become a better Winter Games nation.

Going into the final weekend, the Netherlands is in fourth position in the overall medals table, but apart from a lone bronze at short track, all come from a single sport.

"We are slowly building from scratch," Dutch team manager Arie Koops said of their figure skating program, adding "we want to be part of the mix in a dozen years."

The Dutch do have figure skating history. Sjouke Dijkstra won silver at the Squaw Valley Olympics in California in 1960 and followed it up with gold four years later in Innsbruck.

California-born Dianne de Leeuw took silver at the 1976 Innsbruck games but the Dutch lost their love for the sport soon after and speedskating became an all-consuming passion.

"It has to do with our culture," said Koops. And this culture has become all the more striking since the color orange By RAF has come to dominate the Adler Arena throughout the Olympics.

Even ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta got worked up about it.

"Can you imagine that these people, they are dominating with 20 medals in skating and they do not have a skater in figure skating? Why," Cinquanta asked in an interview with The Associated Press. "They do not care about that? Could it be that they are satisfied with what they obtain in speed skating."

Koops didn't need to be convinced by Cinquanta.

"We are now already at the start of a 10-year plan," Koops said. "The point of departure is that we have nothing, and want a lot."

Short track started from a similar viewpoint eight years ago, and now the Dutch have their first bronze. And with Jorien ter Mors they have a contender in short track and a gold medalist in 1,500-meter long track. So Koops has patience.

"That is how every career starts, with the drive to become the best," he said.

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Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert

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