In a list made public before the trials, each of the starting spots was ranked from 1 to 15 (the mass start is handled differently, with the participants chosen by the skating federation). Once nine skaters of each gender have qualified based on the matrix, those skaters must be used to fill out the rest of the starting spots, no matter how they fared in the qualifying races.
Because the men performed relatively poorly in the 500 meters this season, the second and third starting spots for the distance were near the bottom of the matrix. Still, at the end of the qualifying tournament, N’tab was the eighth-ranked Dutch skater. If the skating federation had simply taken the top nine male skaters — as it did with the women — N’tab would have qualified for Beijing.
Unfortunately for N’tab, as Sierksma emphasized, the system is not absolute: It also leaves room for human judgment, which Remy de Wit, the skating federation’s technical director, chose to exercise. Neither Bosker nor Sven Kramer performed well enough at the trials to qualify for the Olympics, but their skills were seen as needed in the mass start and team pursuit events, so they were chosen over N’tab and Tijmen Snel, who finished third in the 1,500 meters.
Four years ago, Krol was on the short end of a similar selection conundrum.
In 2018, he finished third in the 1,000 meters, seemingly securing his Olympic spot. But since Kai Verbij had already qualified in the 500 meters but was injured for the 1,000-meter race, the Dutch skating federation gave him Krol’s spot so that he could complete in both in Pyeongchang, South Korea. That choice freed a spot for another skater for the team pursuit.
“So, actually, everybody was happy with it,” Krol said. “‘OK, someone can go for team pursuit, Kai is a good skater in the 1,000 so he can go although he’s injured. And Thomas, yeah, you know, we’re sad for him.’”