“It’s an everlasting quest, and a very unnatural sport. Humans have evolved to stand up straight and walk forward, and in speed skating, you’re springing down and pushing to the side - when you hit it, it’s a beautiful feeling.”
Cornelius Kersten’s eyes light up when he is explaining his love for skating, as he closes in on becoming Britain’s first long track speed skater at the Winter Olympics in 30 years.
The sport is in his blood - born in the Netherlands to a Dutch father and a British mother - he has skated practically all of his life, as all Dutch children do in the winter. Kersten is part of a golden generation of British skaters on the 400m oval ice track - with his girlfriend, Ellia Smeding, and Gemma Cooper, also in contention to reach Beijing 2022.
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Short track has dominated British interest over recent years, thanks to the world titles provided by Elise Christie, but Kersten hopes he can set about a chain of events which makes long track a fixture in the British sport psyche. It is strange, in some ways, that there is not a larger amount of interest in long track, given its similarity to track cycling (“It’s basically the same, and similar speeds...but all on our own two legs” says Kersten), but the 27-year-old knows only success will lead to more funding, and the possible investment in a UK track - which does not exist.
“Elise is an inspiration, just the way she goes at it, fighting her way back event after event, race after race - she just goes again, it’s amazing to watch,” Kersten told Eurosport.
“I hope to get somewhere even close to being that inspiring to others.
The funny thing is that if you go back to the early days of long track, there was a huge amount of British involvement and most of the rules as we know them now come from the Brits.
“Up until the 1970s, there were loads of races but then the cold winters died out and the sport did too. Setting up a long track facility is quite expensive, and you can only use it about seven months of the year, so I think that’s why it hasn’t taken off yet but you need the facility first.”
Kersten looks good to qualify for Beijing, and he feels in the form of his life. At the World Speed Skating Championships in Heerenveen in February, he finished in the top 20 in two events and nearly sneaked into the top 10 in the 1000m. That form is easily good enough, as the British skaters need to earn quota places in four World Cup events this winter by finishing in the top 24 or 28 places (depending on the distance), and he is targeting peak form at two competitions in December.
To make the most of his training, Kersten and Smeding both live in the Netherlands, where skating is an institution and has a large number of tracks. They fund their Olympic dream by owning and running a coffee business, Brew ‘22, which specialises in using a single cup filter - something Kersten discovered while competing in Japan.
While Kersten receives some specific sport funding, Smeding does not - but even then, it is not enough to finance the season. He adores his project, but admits it can be a little tricky to juggle.
“Balancing it this year’s hard because we’re training a lot and I’m in camp a lot,” he said.
I really enjoy it, I love being here, you’re working on your little baby. We just launched our subscriptions, we’re creating a bit of a community there and they get to see our journey to the Games. I wouldn’t advise any other athlete to do it!
“You really realise the life we live as athletes is very special, every season is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We realise how lucky we are, to chase our dreams like that...one of the things I like about it is that when I have a bad day on the ice, I can come to the office here and the worries can go away.”
Kersten says there was never much doubt about wanting to represent Team GB over the country of his birth, having been inspired by British Olympic achievements across winter and summer sports.
“The idea has always been there to represent Great Britain,” he said.
I’ve always loved watching Team GB perform and seeing them on TV. They always seemed like the best, the most beautiful and the strongest team and the connection was always there.
“After my junior days, Stephen Airey was setting up the British Ice Skating Long Track Federation and that’s how it started to grow, and I rolled into it.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been this close to having three British athletes at the Games. I got quite close in 2018, and to make it for myself would be amazing, a reward for all the hard work.
Kersten is fully immersed in the adventure ahead over the coming months - but it is clear that his passion for creating the building blocks for British athletes to follow him is never far away from his mind.
“My mission really has been to try and grow the sport back up again and bring a bit of a life back into it and if I can inspire a few kids, that would be amazing.”
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