It takes a lot of preparation and attention to detail to get the ice just right for speed skating. Too hard and the surface can crack. Too soft, worker ice as it's referred to, and maintaining speed becomes more difficult.
That balance can sway the outcomes of races, which is why Swedish skater Nils van der Poel felt morally obligated to address what he called "the biggest scandal" in the sport.
The Dutch skating association KNSB published an article last week about the temperature of the ice with quotes from sport scientist Sander van Ginkel. Van Ginkel was quoted as saying he provides suggestions to the Olympic icemakers to make "adjustments that are in our favor" so "we can achieve something more."
“This is a two point thing," van der Poel said in a press conference after winning gold in the 5000m event on Wednesday. "Either they are actually trying to make the ice beneficial for the Dutch skaters, that’s an abomination. That’s corruption ... Or they are writing an article, releasing it on the day of the start of the Olympics because they want to conduct a psychological operation towards the other skaters.
“Perhaps both of these are true."
The Netherlands is the dominant country in speed skating, having won 121 total Olympic medals. Norway is second with 84. The Dutch have already gotten off to a strong start at the 2022 Winter Olympics with four gold medals in five events.
Swedish coach Johan Rojler said the ice conditions varied during the first two days of competition, which gave him pause. But, he received an explanation from the International Skating Union with details of measurements done. That eased his concern regarding the ice itself, which he said has been more stable in the last few days.
"I don’t believe that (icemaker) Mark Messer would let himself be duped into doing something with the ice," Rojler said in a press conference. "But, knowing that there is (van Ginkel) trying to show him data to get in his head making decisions benefiting the Dutch skaters, that I find very provoking.”
Remy de Wit, the technical director of KNSB, said van Ginkel's words were misinterpreted and that nothing beyond normal conversations regarding the conditions of the ice are taking place.
“An ice master often informs with the top athletes how the surface is doing," Dutch Olympic Committee technical director Maurits Hendriks said in a press conference. “There is only one party that decides on the ice quality, on the temperature and that is the ISU. There's nobody else who can influence that."
Messer has already denied helping one specific country and said he tells any relevant information to each team competing.
Van der Poel stated that he does not blame the Dutch athletes and expressed his trust in the icemakers.
The Swedish skater said he looks forward to learning of what punishment comes the KNSB's way from the ISU and International Olympic Committee.
"This is trying to alter the field of play in your favor by using unethical and immoral means," van der Poel said. "When you do things like this, we really must question the authenticity of the results. That’s due to the KNSB, not due to the skaters."
Van der Poel will be back on the ice for the men's 10,000m competition on Friday at 3 a.m. ET.