Canada finds itself in a strange position in the international speedskating community entering the most important event of the season — wearing the black hat.
A lot of bad blood has been created by a series of recent incidents where top international skaters had trouble gaining access to the Richmond Olympic Oval, the official site for the 2010 Winter Games, in advance of this week’s world single distances speedskating championships.
Kevin Crockett, a former Canadian Olympic medallist who now coaches for China, was escorted out of the building along with his athletes, including world champion Beixing Wang.
Dutch Olympic champion Bob de Jong was kept out of the building for a full day before finally being allowed on the ice. And the Germans couldn’t get in at all.
Crockett puts the blame squarely on Speed Skating Canada and its program director Finn Halvorsen, saying they’re going overboard in trying to secure a home-ice advantage for the Olympics.
“The Canadians are acting like this is their fort, like this is a fort that’s being intruded upon,” he said. “The Canadian athletes have kind of inherited this (crappy) attitude. They all believe they actually have an advantage and, in the meantime, they’re not acting like Canadians.
There’s no fairness, there’s no fair play here, there’s nothing like that.”
The Germans say they asked permission to train at the Oval before last weekend’s World Cup final in Salt Lake City, but never got a reply.
“We were there for three days and the only thing I could do was peek through the windows to look at the venue,” German coach Bart Schouten told Dutch journalist Gerard den Elt of AD Sportwereld.
De Jong, the defending Olympic champion in the men’s 10,000 metres, was similarly stymied when he first arrived in Richmond last Tuesday. He tried to sneak in for four hours, to no avail. The next day, Oval officials allowed him on the ice for two hours.
But there was an unpleasant incident when Halvorsen arrived at the Oval and found de Jong in the Canadian team dressing room, chatting with Canadian coach Ingrid Paul. Halvorsen, a Norwegian who took over the Canadian program three years ago, said reports there was a shouting match are “extremely exaggerated,” that he simply made it clear to the Dutchman that the Canadian locker room was out of bounds.
Told that de Jong was apparently invited into the room by Paul, Halvorsen replied: “If she had, then she stepped over her boundaries.”
Magnus Enfeldt, the sport and venue planning manager for VANOC, said part of the problem is that VANOC does not have full control of the Oval until December. The City of Richmond, which footed most of the bill, is in charge and it’s used as a recreational facility by the community.
Enfeldt said that the matter will be discussed today at a team leaders meeting.