From the moment Ted-Jan Bloemen became a Canadian citizen, the speed skating world knew it’d have trouble keeping the maple leaf off the long track Olympic podium at PyeongChang 2018.
On Thursday, Bloemen became the 10,000m champion in Olympic record fashion, doubling his medal tally in Korea to complement his 5,000m silver. This journey, however, began four years ago with fewer cameras trained on him at the Olympic Oval in Calgary.
Shortly after receiving his Canadian passport in 2014, Bloemen – a Netherlands-born athlete with a Canadian father – stepped on to the ice for Canada’s world cup trials and smashed the 10,000m national record that had stood for nine years. It foreshadowed the accolades that were to come.
“Everything changed for me,” Bloemen said in recalling his path to becoming a Canadian who repeatedly delivers results.
“A different country, a different continent, a different culture, a different team around me, a different coach, I got married, there are so many things that changed. If you add all that together it makes for a really great combination where I’ve been feeling really happy and grateful.”
Oh yes, the changes were good. A year after putting Arne Dankers’ national record out to pasture, Bloemen set his sights on the global standard. It belonged to another Dutchman of great acclaim, Sven Kramer.
On the same Salt Lake City ice where Kramer set his international best of 12 minutes, 41.69 seconds back in 2007, Bloemen obliterated the world record eight years later by finishing in 12:36.30. To make matters worse for Kramer, he was second to Bloemen, about eight seconds back for silver.
Kramer had a chance to avenge that defeat on Thursday. Part of the final pairing while Bloemen had to sit and watch, the Dutch legend with eight Olympic medals (four gold) simply couldn’t match the robotic splits produced by the Canadian, who set an Olympic record of 12:39.77 to throw down a gauntlet for Kramer.
“It’s really hard to put that moment into words, it’s more feelings and emotions that run through your body and your mind at that time.” Bloemen said of watching Kramer, knowing that the gold medal could be snatched away from him as skaters race the clock, not each other in long track. But as Kramer’s splits slowed, Bloemen’s jitters gave way to joy.
“It’s a slow realization that you’re becoming an Olympic champion, it’s incredible.”
Bloemen’s wasn’t just a physical victory on Thursday. Prior to Bloemen’s incredible skate, Jorrit Bergsma – another Dutchman – had broken his own Olympic record from Sochi 2014, bringing the time down by 2.47 seconds to 12:41.98. He had done everything he could to defend his Olympic title and that had to be on Bloemen’s mind.
The Canadian watched, then endured. He had the jump on Bergsma’s pace from the opening lap, and continued to build that lead with faster early splits.
“It was a tough race. I had good rhythm and momentum, I just had to keep it going. This is the biggest race of my life and I had to keep pushing to the finish line,” Bloemen said.
When it looked like he was tiring with four laps to go, Bloemen pulled out three sub-30 second laps to match Bergsma’s strong finish. The Netherlands skater had ended his outing with an incredible eight consecutive sub-30 laps, Bloemen had to be in the ballpark to keep his early advantage.
“I just executed my plan to grind it out all the way to the finish. It was enough, it was perfect.”
Nicola Tumolero of Italy, who was in Bloemen’s pairing, won bronze in 12:54.32 to make the podium alongside Bergsma and the Canadian, who praised teammates, family and friends who helped him get to this point.
“We’ve worked towards this competition for so long with my team. I’m just so proud of them that we made it happen today. It’s amazing.”
“They were already so proud when I won the 5,000m silver. I really wanted to win a gold medal for them. But for them, they’ll always love me. It’s a comforting feeling having them here.”
Kramer ended up in sixth place, well off the form that got him gold earlier at the Games when he beat Bloemen in the 5,000m. On Thursday, it was the Canadian who had the legs, and asked how he still had enough in them to jump on to the top spot of the podium, his execution remained flawless.
“When you win you always have that little bit of extra energy, and that’s the right time to release it.”