Kai Verbij | Maple syrup in the absence of an Olympic medal…

A look back at the magnanimous gesture of Dutch skater Kai Verbij, who paved the way for Laurent Dubreuil’s silver medal at the Beijing Olympic Games

Six days earlier, Laurent Dubreuil had failed to place fourth in the 500m at the Olympic Games, an event he dominated that season in the World Cup. Kai Verbij was ranked second in the 1000m standings, a distance for which he was the reigning world champion.

This February 18, 2022, at the almost empty National Skating Oval due to zero COVID-19 policy, the Quebecer and the Dutchman were in search of a first Olympic medal. Four years earlier, in PyeongChang, Dubreuil did not have the form to dream of it. Same thing for Verbij, who was injured during the Dutch selections, which caused him to miss a full month of training.

In the 1000m at the Beijing Games, the two skaters made up 15e and last pair. The Dutchman Thomas Krol, second in the 1500m 10 days earlier, was at the top, impatient to know what color his second medal would be. Tested by his strong disappointment in the 500 m, Dubreuil believed in it, but not too much. Verbij, for his part, was certainly among the favorites, but was wary of the hot start of his opposite number whom he knew well.

In fact, Dubreuil took off with the fire behind him in the inside lane, even giving himself a priority of three quarters of a second over Krol with one lap to go. It remained to be seen how pronounced its deceleration would be in the final loop. For his part, Verbij was practically on par with the leader. The suspense was complete.

Almost everything came down to the next corner, the penultimate one. Now on the outside, Dubreuil came out a bit behind Verbij, on the inside. According to the regulations, in the event of a tie, the outside skater has priority for the crossing which must take place in the straight line, since he has covered a greater distance than his rival at this stage of the race.


Laurent Dubreuil, silver medalist in the 1000m at the Beijing Olympic Games

The responsibility therefore fell to the Dutchman to determine if he could sneak past the Canadian without harming him. Otherwise, he had to give way to him, otherwise he risked disqualification and a fatal collision for his rival. In a split second, Verbij chose to get up, paving the way for Dubreuil, who raced towards the silver medal, to his own amazement. Demolished, his rival let himself slide to the line, which he crossed 30e and good last.

“The exhilaration of victory and the agony of defeat”, the famous slogan of the legendary show Wild World of Sports was encapsulated in this Olympic moment. Compassionate, Dubreuil rushed that evening to offer his thanks to his magnanimous adversary, repeating them two days later at the closing ceremony.

They never spoke of it again, even when the Dubreuils hosted Verbij, Krol and their friends for dinner last summer. The Dutch came to skate in Quebec due to the temporary closure of the legendary Thialf in Heerenveen.

“Anyway, I’m not someone who lives in the past, but for him, it’s probably one of the most traumatic ordeals of his life,” Dubreuil told the day before the opening of the World Distance Championships in Calgary.

“If I had spoken to him about it, I would have felt like I was turning the iron on a still raw wound. I’m pretty sure his family and friends never talk to him about it either. »

“I could have tried my luck”

The Press took charge of this cruel reminder by approaching Verbij during her visit to the World Cup in Quebec, at the beginning of the month.

“I had to make a decision very quickly,” recalled the 29-year-old athlete. I was skating at a good pace, but Laurent was just really good that day. At the time, I judged that the risk was too great. Watching the replay, it’s a little different. Maybe I could have tried my luck. »

Yes, it was sad, I had a good race, but it’s not in my temperament to take a risk and destroy someone else’s good race.

Kai Verbij

At home, where speed skating is a national sport, his maneuver was not well received in the telephone boxes, if indeed such high places of reflection and exchange exist in the land of tulips.

“People were quite critical! But I have the impression that the mentality is a little different in the Netherlands. The pressure to win is very great, but there is also this mentality of fighting until the end, of taking all the risks. But I’m quite friendly with Laurent and I’m really happy for him. He had an excellent race. »

Dubreuil, a favorite of the inhabitants of the province of Friesland, attests to this die-hard temperament.

“It’s cultural, right? In the Netherlands, especially in the skating world, there are some people who are arrogant and it’s a very competitive environment. You take care of yourself and you respect others. But one of Kai’s two parents is Japanese (his mother). It’s a complete clash of cultures. The Japanese are ultra-respectful. They don’t want to disturb. If it had been another Dutch skater, in my opinion, he would have tried to pass. »

Delicious maple butter…

Verbij’s gesture was welcomed by the entire international sports community. It also earned him the Visa Prize, an award awarded by a vote of supporters from around the world to highlight the moment of the Games which best represents “friendship, acceptance and inspiration”, three values of Olympism according to the IOC. This award was accompanied by a grant of US$50,000, which the skater presented to his country’s UNICEF.

“I have received several messages from all over the world. It’s not something I’m very proud of because obviously I want to win a medal. It was also good to know that the Canadians recognized (the gesture). »

To his amazement, he even received a thank you card with a bottle of maple syrup from the Canadian Embassy in the Netherlands! “It happened at home. I was surprised they found my address! »

“How did you find the maple syrup?”

— I don’t know, I gave it to my mother! »

Verbij was, however, able to recover during his summer stay in Quebec, the Dubreuil family having received him for a “sugar shack” meal. Andréanne Bastille, Laurent’s wife, had even prepared a gift package for him containing a range of maple products: flavored salt, cotton candy, popcorn and candy canes.

“There was also maple butter, which was really delicious. » Perhaps not enough to completely erase the bitter taste of an Olympic disappointment.

reference: www.lapresse.ca

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