RUG Student Wins Olympic Gold in Ice-Skating Short Track

By Francesco Morelli and Himanshu Jana

February 17, 2022. Last Sunday, the Dutch women’s short-track speed skating team brought The Netherlands, and the RUG, to the highest step of the Olympic podium. 20-year-old Xandra Velzeboer and her three teammates – Suzanne Schulting, Selma Poutsma, and Yara van Kerkhof finished their 3000 meters relay in 4’03 minutes, securing a new Olympic record and a historic gold for the Dutch Winter Olympics’ team.

The 2022 Beijing Games are not over yet, but the Dutch team has already conquered 15 medals in different competitions overall. The four-member team asserted the Netherland’s dominance in the Speed Skating scene, leaving South Korea and the host team of China to settle for silver and bronze.

“This win comes in as confirmation that we are one of the best short track speed ice-skating teams in the world”, said Carl Mureau, the spokesperson for KNSB, the Royal Dutch Skaters Association, who’s currently in Beijing following the team.

Last October, again in Beijing, the team had registered a new world record, finishing the race in 4’02 minutes, with a slightly different roster of athletes. This time, it was Velzeboer, the youngest athlete on the team, who took back the lead with only 10 (out of 27) laps to go, allowing her and the squad to hold the position until the finish line.

“This win is the result of 14 to 15 years of hard work,”, Mureau told 9to5, “the athletes were so happy and proud of themselves”. 

Looking back on her performance, the young athlete told the University of Groningen that her sprint was “crucial” and created a considerable gap that allowed the team to hold onto their lead and come out victorious. For Velzeboer, this gold comes in as her 8th medal in major international competitions.

International medals won by Xandra Velzeboer. Credits: 9to5

With the Olympics coming to an end in a few days, Velzeboer will be coming back to the Netherlands. Here, when she’s not training on the blades, she studies Life Science and Technology at RUG, following lectures and seminars in Zernike.

“I am very happy for Xandra’s success.”, said Professor Dirk-Jan Scheffers, the Programme Administrator. “It goes to show that a high-level career in sports can be combined with the university”. 

Schaffers then added that the RUG actively promotes this balance, by implementing policies that ease academic formalities for professional athletes. As an example, if an athlete has to attend a training camp that overlaps with a mandatory course, the classes can be either postponed or a different agreement can be reached. “Xandra, Schaffer outlines, is one of those young people who are motivated enough to pursue both an education and an elite career in sports”.

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