Move over Laura and Jason Kenny – there is a new Team GB Olympic couple to focus on in the coming weeks, when Cornelius Kersten and Ellia Smeding become Britain’s first long track speed skaters in 30 years.
They will be a breath of fresh air in Beijing as two athletes who are grounded and know sport is not the most important thing in life. Kersten has shrugged off talk of “pressure” by saying people have more important things to worry about, and as largely unfunded athletes, they have fuelled their push for the Games by setting up what has become a successful coffee company.
‘Team Cornellia’ (as Smeding has dubbed on Instagram) have similar backgrounds – both were born to a Dutch father and an English mother and have spent most, if not all, of their lives in the Netherlands, where speed skating is a huge sport. They both have a desire to boost its profile in the UK, and hope that could lead to Britain’s first long-track rink. Kersten has spoken of Elise Christie being an inspiration for how she did something similar for short track – and he wants to replicate that.
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It is clear when talking to the couple that it is no coincidence they have both had the season of their lives at the same time. National records have been crushed by both of them and top 10 finishes have been achieved at some of the biggest events on the circuit. Neither believe they have reached anywhere near their full potential, and it seems being able to support each other all year round – whether in work, training or competition – has been crucial, particularly during a pandemic which has brought isolation for so many.
“We’re really lucky because athlete life can be very lonely, and being able to travel together makes things easier and a lot more fun,” Kersten told Eurosport.
Usually when we go to World Cups, we travel together, we coach each other and make sure the other one is ready to race. Instead of going out to party when she’s done, she’ll help me and that works the other way round, too. It’s really basic, but it makes such a big difference.
Smeding agrees, and says having Kersten for company has brought the best out of her as much as it has for her partner.
“It’s helped me tremendously because he really supports me through thick and thin,” Smeding told Eurosport.
“If I have a bad race he’ll be there for me at the end of the day, if I have a really good race he’s the one cheering the loudest. It’s really good to still have that company and that familiar feeling when you’re away from home.
“It’s always been a really positive experience that we get to experience those things together and see the world and still support each other – I think that’s so good.”
The natural question to ask is whether being around each other all the time ever becomes too much, but both athletes say being open with each other has been crucial – although Kersten does joke their training schedules can be a little bit out of sync.
“Those frustrations have been there – what will happen is we’re in different training cycles, one week I’ll be in intense training and I’ll be destroyed and she’s on a rest week, so she’ll be like ‘let’s go have lunch’, and I’m like ‘let me go to bed, I’m struggling here!’,” he said.
“We both have our moments where we’re very open to taking advice, and others where we’re like ‘no, this is how we do it!’.”
“That is a key thing for me, honesty,” said Smeding.
You need to say if you think something, like what you feel about a race – we’re quite critical towards each other just because I think that helps each other move forward.
“We’re also in a way each other’s coaches in that we know how we skate, so when I see him race, we can analyse it together and say something like, you could have attacked that corner differently and he does the same to me.
“We have a coach with us as well but not all the time, it depends on the funding. but it is good to bounce off each other and help each other.”
Kersten and Smeding have already arrived in Beijing, as they settle into their surroundings ahead of the speed skating schedule beginning on February 5.
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Source: Euro Sports