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Ex-pro speedskater teaches tricks of the trade to Manitoba kids

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Carter Chambers (from left), Simon Koots, Christian Liebzeit, Remmelt Eldering, Tyson Langelaar and Lindsey Kent. Says Chambers: 'When we shot up at events, he's got us doing these crazy Dutch drills.'

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Carter Chambers (from left), Simon Koots, Christian Liebzeit, Remmelt Eldering, Tyson Langelaar and Lindsey Kent. Says Chambers: 'When we shot up at events, he's got us doing these crazy Dutch drills.' Photo Store

Call it the double Dutch effect.

Led by Remmelt Eldering, a former professional speedskater turned professional coach from the Netherlands, Manitoba's provincial speedskaters are training like the Dutch and hoping to win like the Dutch.

A 6-foot-7 tower of energy with a beard that could have placed in the Festival du Voyageur contest and a quick smile, Eldering is in his second year of a four-year contract as Manitoba's provincial team head coach. He coaches the seniors and masters skaters and mentors local young coaches. With his technical knowledge and deep-rooted love for the sport, Eldering, 31, is sharing the speedskating culture that kids grow up with in the Netherlands.

"When we show up at events (across Canada), he's got us doing these crazy Dutch drills, loosening up our hips, with hip circles, and everyone looks at us like we're crazy but you can tell they wish they had that," said Carter Chambers, 16.

"It's all about passion and igniting us. He's such a great coach and great person to be around, you want to come to the rink and get better. You look forward to to your legs burning that evening."

Team Manitoba and the rest of the world watched in awe last month as the Netherlands dominated speedskating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. The Dutch won 23 of a possible 36 speedskating medals, eight gold (the most won by a single nation in a single sport at a single winter Olympics) and swept the podium in four events.

During his five years as a professional skater, Eldering trained on the same team as Dutch Olympians Stefan Groothuis (gold in the men's 1,000m) and Carien Kleibeuker (bronze in the women's 5,000m).

"When other provinces find out we have a Dutch coach, I think it's put a spotlight on Manitoba across the country," said Simon Koots, 18, who achieved a personal best this season in every distance in which he competed. "He puts a focus on the team aspect in a way we hadn't before. He's giving us that edge to get to the top."

In 2006, Eldering skated the 12th fastest time of all Dutch skaters in the men's 3,000m. Those close to the sport know what that means. The talent pool in the Netherlands is so deep that experts in Sochi said Dutch skaters who didn't make the Olympics were better than most of those at the Olympics representing other countries. As a coach, Eldering was working in Heerenveen, the world capital of speedskating, where he trained elite skaters of all ages and trained with them.

"It's cool because he'll send us our (workout) programs and he'll say "this is what the Dutch are doing right now," said Chambers, who this season met the standard required by Calgary's Olympic Oval program in the 1,000m and 1,500m. He hopes to train there fulltime after high school.

This season, Eldering's 22 Manitoba provincial team athletes, aged 14-18, had to wait until nearly Christmas for the Susan Auch Oval ice to be ready. Then, some training days were shortened or lost because it was so cold.

"We have such bad circumstances, we barely train on the oval. We got to Calgary (for competitions), and everybody says, 'there's Team Manitoba again' and we surprise everyone," Eldering said, noting all Manitoba skaters posted personal bests this season. "People are talking and saying to me, 'what are you doing?' It's cool."

Eldering said it's a mindset as much as training techniques.

"We skate a lot. That's a big difference, and one thing I brought from Holland. We skate longer and more than they were used to. We rest while skating rather than rest standing," said Eldering. During the season, which wraps up this weekend, the athletes train six days a week for two hours or more, including warm-up, cool down and those "crazy Dutch drills."

Caroline Slegers-Boyd, the Manitoba Speed Skating Association president, said there is widespread confidence that Eldering "will bring us to the next stage of sport improvement."

"He's one of those coaches that will leave his mark in that way. We've had so many personal bests this year, and I believe that has a lot to do with his approach. And that everyone has so much fun when he's around," said Slegers-Boyd. "He gives our skaters a different way of looking at the sport than most Canadian coaches would do. He's created a balance between a love of the sport, the individual responsibility for the sport and then team approach."

Just how far the Manitoba skaters can take that will be seen next year at the Canada Games at Prince George, B.C.

"My hope for them is to reach their own goals that they set. That's a politically correct answer," Eldering said, grinning. "I just hope they kick butt at Canada Games. However they do, I'm going to be cheering for them and I'm proud of them."

Eldering's last words in emails and presentations always go like this: "Keep calm and listen to Remmelt."

"I like to keep it light," Eldering said. "But it's good if they do this."

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2014 D16

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