How Canada helped Ted-Jan Bloemen reach his potential

Dutch-born speed skater wins his first Olympic medal

How Canada helped Ted-Jan Bloemen reach his potential
Ted-Jan Bloemen believes he's become a better skater and a better person since leaving his native Holland for Canada. And now he's got an Olympic medal to prove it. © Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press

By Devin Heroux, CBC Sports

It was one of the hardest decisions he's ever had to make, leaving his home country of Holland to skate for another nation. But on Sunday night at the Gangneung Oval, it all paid off for Ted-Jan Bloemen.

The Canadian speed skater captured silver in the men's 5,000 metres in a photo finish, edging out Norway's Sverre Lunde Pedersen by two thousandths of a second. Dutch skater Sven Kramer won his third consecutive Olympic gold medal in the event — becoming the first man to three-peat in the 5,000 — by skating an Olympic-record time of 6:09.76.

Bloemen's medal was Canada's first in the men's 5,000 since Willy Logan won bronze at the Lake Placid Games in 1932.

"I'm 31 years old now and this is my first Olympic Games and I already won a medal at it," Bloemen said. "It's really big and I'm really proud and really grateful for the great team I have around me."

It was a riveting finish. It took what seemed to be an eternity to find out if Bloemen would finish ahead of Pedersen.

Watch Bloemen's silver-winning skate:

"I was just trying to catch that guy in front of me," Bloemen said. "I was so tired I could barely stand on my legs but I took every risk to make it to the end."

He made it. But it took quite the journey to get there. 

Four years ago, Bloemen left Holland (a country known for its speed skating supremacy) to continue his career in Canada. He needed a change, a spark, something to ignite his career. His father was born in New Brunswick and in 2014 Bloemen become a dual citizen.

"I chose a different path and it all turned out better than I could have hoped," he said.

In Holland, Bloemen says he never felt fully supported. He would yo-yo in and out of the elite program, sometimes getting a coach, sometimes not. 

But when he got to Canada he was embraced. He became part of the Canadian speed skating family. 

"It was a hard decision, but in the end it was also easy because I always felt at home right from the start because I had such great people around me," Bloemen said. 

Family support

Sitting in the crowd of thousands of people Sunday in South Korea were Bloemen's wife, Marlinde, and his parents. Prior to his race, Marlinde whipped the fans around her into a frenzy.

"My husband is about to race!" she yelled to the crowd. "We have to make as much noise as possible!"

Dressed from head to toe in red and white, Marlinde passed out Canadian flags. She was also born in the Netherlands, but on this day she couldn't be more proud to be wearing the maple leaf.

They screamed, waved their arms in the air and embraced one another as Bloemen raced towards the finish line.

They've stuck by Bloemen's side through it all and his pursuit of this podium moment. It wasn't lost on him either.

"You know whatever happens they'll still love you," Bloemen said. "That's something nobody can ever take away from you and that's really comforting."

Credit to coach

For the last four years Bloemen has been following the advice of his coach, Bart Schouten. Bloemen admits there was a time earlier in his career when he wanted to do things his way. He was difficult to deal with.

"I've matured a lot over the years. When I was younger I wasn't your typical athlete. I had a hard time living the right way for the sport," Bloemen admitted.

Watch Bloemen react to his silver performance:

He credits his coach for helping him become a better skater and person.

"Bart is the architect of our program. He's not only our coach but he makes sure we're also happy outside out of the training."

After the skate Schouten was beaming with pride but was quick to deflect any attention. 

"I don't want to take too much credit," Schouten said. "I think Ted has grown up a lot the last four years in Canada. He loved the way he was received in Canada and the way the team took him in."