By David Song, March 9 2018 —
The Olympics bring different cultures together through sport, offering a space for people with diverse backgrounds to share their struggles and achievements. Dutch-born speedskater Ted-Jan Bloemen wholeheartedly embodies the multicultural nature of the Olympics. Bloemen began competing for Canada in the summer of 2014 and now lives in Calgary. As a world-record holder in both the 5,000- and 10,000-metre events, Bloemen is an established member of Canada’s speedskating team.
“In the Netherlands, [speedskating] is very competitive. I could never go fast enough because I just needed some more time [to train], but I never got it,” Bloemen said. “They would pick someone else before I had the chance to really show what I got. At some point, I just figured that if I want to get better, I should find a different way.”
After leaving his homeland to pursue his career, things turned out well for Bloemen, who settled into his new home without incident.
“Coming to Canada seemed like a great adventure. I tried to set everything up for myself before I moved, but that was really hard from Holland. In the end, I just booked a ticket and left. I only had a place to stay for a month. But it all worked out,” he said. “I started training with the speedskating team right away. They were happy to have me and showed me around. It was actually much easier than I expected and I’m really grateful for that.”
At 31, Bloemen made his Olympic debut last month in Pyeongchang, wearing Canada’s red and white instead of the Netherland’s orange. The Holland-born Calgarian excelled, capturing silver in the 5,000-metre and gold in the 10,000-metre races. Completing his latter skate with the time of 12:39.77, Bloemen also established a new Olympic record.
“I tried to prepare as well as I could for the Olympics. It was my first time, so there were a lot of unknowns,” Bloemen said. “When we walked into the opening ceremonies, I felt really awesome to be part of it. [Speedskating] is an individual sport, so you’re on your own on race day, but you feel a lot of support from the team around you.”
In Pyeongchang, Bloemen made sure to support his comrades throughout the Games. That often meant embracing the small, simple moments outside of competition.
“At the Olympics, you can’t do too much together. But we’d eat our meals together and just have a laugh and talk to relieve some stress,” he said.
Though his uniform now brandishes a maple leaf, a subtle detail on Bloemen’s skating glasses pay homage to his Dutch roots. He credits both countries for his personal and athletic development.
“I still have a lot of Dutch in me, but I’ve also really liked living in Calgary. The atmosphere [in Canada] is a lot more relaxed. I definitely feel a lot less stressed but I can be a little direct sometimes. It comes from my Dutch heritage,” Bloemen said. “In Dutch, my last name means ‘bloom’. I had a special pair of glasses made for me with flowers on them in the colours of the Olympic rings.”
With two Olympic medals under his belt, Bloemen returns to action alongside Team Canada in the World Allround Speed Skating Championships in his home country of the Netherlands from March 9–11.