Ellia Smeding is part of something of a golden generation of British long track speed skaters, who are all looking to become the country’s first to qualify for a Winter Olympics in 30 years.
Along with Gemma Cooper and Smeding’s partner, Cornelius Kersten, the trio are leading a new talent pool - despite there being no long track rinks in the UK. Part of the secret to that success is the Netherlands, and for Smeding, some Dutch blood too.
Born in England to a British mother and a Dutch father, who met at university in London, the Smeding family moved to Holland, initially temporarily, simply so that the three children could learn the language - and that is how she found her love for skating.
Beijing spotlight: Four Games, four individual golds – can Wust make history at fifth?
“I always really enjoyed rollerblading at birthday parties. I was really competitive,” Smeding told Eurosport.
“My mum said, 'Oh, we have an inline track', which is 400 metres, so it's the same size as a speed skating rink. They had this in the town that we moved to, and I really wanted to give it a go.
“What the Dutch do is they combine the sports, so in the summer, they'll do a lot of inline skating and then in the winter, they'll get onto the ice because it's the same size rink. I think I started doing competitions when I was about 11 - my parents never decided to move back, so we've been here ever since!”
Smeding is modest when she talks about her initial steps in the sport, describing herself as not “the biggest talent”. But she was one of the athletes sounded out by Stephen Airey, the main player in getting an elite British long track set-up off the ground.
Ellia Smeding has qualified to compete in three World Cup events this season
Image credit: Getty Images
It led to Smeding making rapid steps in the sport. She describes speed skating as often “frustrating” - describing it as such a complicated movement which can make you can feel on top of the world one day, and feel completely out of sync on another. She has already secured her place at World Cup 500m, 1000m and 1500m events this season.
Quota places need to be achieved for Team GB before individuals fill them, but with three months to go until Beijing, Smeding is quite literally in the form of her life, having set new national records in the 1000m and 1500m in Inzell at the weekend - and she is clearly driven by a desire to make the most of her ability.
“Because of nerves, I couldn't really perform at races, even though it was a really small race, I'd get so nervous that I just couldn't perform anymore,” she said.
“I think I always had that feeling because I knew what I felt in training, and I knew what I physically could do. I think that always encouraged me to think, 'Okay, just keep going and see where this can take you'.
I've never had a feeling that I've reached my potential. I'm always a perfectionist, I always want the best. If there's more in there, I want to get it out.
Smeding is trying not to think too far ahead to the Games, even though she says it would be extremely special to not just become an Olympian, but to do that with Kersten. The couple run a successful coffee business in the Netherlands, Brew 22, while she has also been studying law. She says both help her stay grounded, and for now, it is all about taking one step at a time.
- Beijing 2022 Olympic Games: Schedule, big names, key events and more
- ‘Christie is an inspiration’ - Olympic-bound Kersten dreams of GB long track speed skating legacy
That said, Smeding knows that if any of the athletes reach Beijing - and the sport is put on the map in the UK - it could lead to huge developments for the sport in Britain.
“I'm also so eager to get the sport on the radar. For the youngsters coming up who are getting introduced to the sport, I really do hope that there will be some more funding available, that people will know the sport more, because I do think it's such an amazing sport.
“You can't really get into a sport when there's no facility in the UK, so that's a limiting factor. But I do really hope that at some point, there will be a rink and I do think about it a lot.
“I do think it would be an absolute breakthrough, if we did qualify - at least one of us, I'm hoping all three - that would be amazing.”
- - -
The UCI Track Champions League is coming and you can watch all of the action live on the Eurosport app, eurosport.co.uk and discovery+. Find out more about the "mind-blowing" new era for track cycling, with the first event on November 6 in Mallorca.
US speed skater gives up Beijing spot to teammate after slip at trials
Kersten to become Team GB’s first Olympic long track speed skater in 30 years