by News Bureau on
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Feb. 3, 2014 – Southeast Missouri State University alumnus and former men’s basketball player Eelco Derks finds himself in a new arena these days.
Derks is the director of Thialf, an ice skating rink in Heerenveen in the northern region of the Netherlands where several Olympic skaters competing in this year’s Winter Olympics have trained.
“All of the greatest ice skaters in the world have performed in Thialf,” Derks says.
That list includes former American Olympic speed skaters Eric Heiden, Bonny Blair, Dan Janssen and Shani Davis. Other world skaters who have trained at Thialf include Norway’s Johan Olov Koss; Dutch skaters Sven Kramer, Rintje Ritsma and Ireen Wust; Canada’s Jeremy Wotherspoon and Germany’s Anni Friesinger.
Derks, who resides in Bussum, Netherlands, plans to be hand for the Winter games in Sochi, Russia, with opening ceremonies scheduled for Feb. 7. “Sochi will be my first Olympics. I am excited since Sochi [competitors] learned from our arena. I am curious if their ideas will result in a new world record or not,” he said. Derks says several Dutch short track skaters have been training every day in Thialf in preparation for the upcoming games. Sven Kramer is vying for his third gold medal, while Ireen Wust is competing for her fourth gold. At Thialf, visitors can train for ice speed skating, short tracks, figure skating and ice hockey as well as participate in strength programing such as judo, swimming and gymnastics. Several Olympic gold medalists have trained at Thialf, he says. “Thialf is an icon sports building in the Netherlands,” Derks said. “It is almost a cultural heritage since many of our heroic sports history moments were made in Thialf. Ten percent of all our Olympic gold medals have been earned by ice speed skaters, almost all with a history in Thialf. “Nowadays, all our top skaters train here every day, and every year three to four national and international events are held in Thialf. Internationally, Thialf is for ice skaters what Wimbledon is for tennis players,” Derks said. Derks has been employed as the director of the rink for two years. “As the director of Thialf, I am responsible for a multipurpose ice skating rink with Olympic athletes, a stadium that sets the international standard for ice skating arenas,” Derks said. Under his direction, they are currently expanding the rink in an effort to reach their goal of setting the international standard for ice skating rinks and “to reset the standard for ice speed skating rinks in the world.” Every very day is an interesting day in Thialf, Derks said. “We’re working on a big rebuilding plan of 50 million euros, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of,” Derks said. Derks attended Southeast from 1989 to 1993, was a four year letterman and is credited with scoring Southeast’s first Division I men’s basketball point. In 1993, Derks graduated from Southeast Missouri State with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in marketing. He was a member of Lambda Chi and Southeast’s men’s basketball team. “Southeast and the United States have really formed my way of thinking,” Derks said. “It prepared me for things to come since professional sports in the United States are on a higher level than in the Netherlands. Also the sports arenas helped, as my basketball career at Southeast combined with marketing in the United States gave me an advantage. Combining education and sports also hardens you, and you learn time management at an early age.” After he returned to the Netherlands, he earned a master’s degree in sport management. “I am excited to work in the field of sports because I had the opportunity to make my profession out of my hobby. I came to Southeast on a basketball scholarship, which gave me a chance to play professionally on my return to the Netherlands, something I did for seven years, including four years for the Dutch National Team,” he said. Derks, who stands at six feet, eight inches, says he chose Southeast because of its basketball program. A native of Waddinxveen, Netherlands, Derks speaks four languages – English, German, Dutch and French. From 2000 to the present, he has specialized in the study of the social position of sports in society. “This is a complex but very interesting field since health, social integration, city marketing, commerce and different social issues are all part of this search,” he said. Derks is married with two children. When he isn’t at work, he assists young people in his community as well as his children, who also enjoy playing sports. “I really enjoy being a youth trainer and coach. I do this for basketball and field hockey. Both my kids play field hockey,” he said, adding he rents a gym for youth in his neighborhood to practice basketball. “Come and visit the Netherlands and Thialf,” Derks said. “I will show you a great Dutch tradition through a wonderful stadium called Thialf.”