Beijing 2022 – “I never reached my potential” – British speed skater Ellia Smeding on Olympic dream

Ellia Smeding is one of a golden generation of British long track speed skaters, all looking to become the country’s first to qualify for the Winter Olympics in 30 years.

Along with Gemma Cooper and Smeding’s partner Cornelius Kersten, the trio are leading a new talent pool – although there are no long track rinks in the UK. Part of the secret to this success lies in the Netherlands, and for Smeding, Dutch blood as well.

Born in England to a British mother and a Dutch father, who met at the University of London, the Smeding family moved to Holland, at first temporarily, simply so that the three children could learn the language – and that’s how she found her love for skating.

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“I have always really enjoyed rollerblading at birthday parties. I was really competitive, “Smeding told Eurosport.

“My mom said, ‘Oh, we have an inline track,’ that’s 400 meters, so it’s the same size as a speed rink. They had this in the town we moved to, and I really wanted to give it a try.

“What the Dutch do is they combine sports, so in the summer they do a lot of inline skating and then in the winter they go out on the ice because it’s the same rink. I think I started competing around the age of 11 – my parents never decided to come back, so we’ve been here ever since!

Smeding is modest when she talks about her first steps in the sport, describing herself as not “the greatest talent”. But she was one of the athletes polled by Stephen Airey, the main player in starting an elite UK long track facility.

Ellia Smeding has qualified to compete in three World Cup events this season

Image credit: Getty Images

This has led Smeding to take quick strides in the sport. She describes speed skating as often “frustrating” – describing it as such a complicated move that can make you feel on top of the world one day and completely out of sync another. She has already secured her place in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m World Cup events this season.

Quota spots need to be met for the GB team before individuals fill them, but with three months to go to Beijing, Smeding is literally in the form of a life, having set new national records in the 1000m and 1500m at Inzell this weekend – and she’s clearly motivated by a desire to make the most of her abilities.

“Due to the nervousness I couldn’t really perform in the races even though it was a very short race I would get so nervous I just couldn’t perform anymore,” she said.

“I think I always had that feeling because I knew how I felt in training and I knew what I could do physically. I think it always encouraged me to think, “Okay, go ahead and see where this can take you.”

I never felt like I had reached my potential. I’m still a perfectionist, I always want the best. If there’s more in there, I want to take it out.

Smeding tries not to anticipate the Games too much, although she says it would be extremely special not only to become an Olympian, but to do so with Kersten. The couple ran a successful coffee business in the Netherlands, Brew 22, while they were also studying law. She says the two are helping her stay grounded, and right now it’s about taking one step at a time.

That said, Smeding knows that if any of the athletes reach Beijing – and sport is put on the map in the UK – it could lead to huge developments for sport in Britain.

“I’m also so excited to put the sport on the radar. For young people who are new to the sport, I really hope that there will be more funding available, that people will know the sport better, because I think it is such an amazing sport.

“You can’t really get into a sport when there aren’t any facilities in the UK so that’s a limiting factor. But I really hope that at some point there will be an ice rink and I think about it a lot.

“I think it would be an absolute breakthrough, if we qualified – at least one of us, I hope all three – it would be amazing.”

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The UCI Track Champions League is coming and you can watch all the action live on the Eurosport app, and discovery +. Experience the ‘breathtaking’ new era of track cycling, with the first event on November 6 in Mallorca.

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