Ted-Jan Bloemen credits move to Canada for career turnaround

Dutch-born speed skater a medal contender in the 5,000 and 10,000-metre races

Ted-Jan Bloemen credits move to Canada for career turnaround
Ted-Jan Bloemen credits support of Canadian team and coaches for career turnaround. © Kevin Light/CBC Sports

By Devin Heroux, CBC Sports

Ted-Jan Bloemen knows all too well the pressure of competing for a country whose citizens grow up skating.

For more than half of his career, Bloemen competed in the Netherlands, where speed skating is as revered as hockey is in Canada. 

"Speed skating is big in Holland," Bloemen said recently. "You're so proud. You don't want to move to another country so you can qualify for races. This is the biggest speed-skating country in the world and you want to make it there."

The 31-year-old, who now lives in Calgary, is part of Canada's 19-member team competing in Pyeongchang. It is his first Olympics. 

Bloemen was born and raised in the Netherlands, however, where his skating career started skating at a young age. He burst onto the scene at the 2006 world junior championships, placing fifth. But for the next eight years Bloemen would yo-yo in and out of speed skating in Holland, saying he never felt fully supported there because of the high level of competition.

Father is Canadian

"I would get a chance for one season and then they would decide I was not good enough," Bloemen said. "At some point I just decided I didn't want to be a part of that anymore and take matters into my own hands."

So in 2014, Bloemen, whose father is Canadian, uprooted and moved to Calgary, obtained dual citizenship and tried to reignite his career.

"My dad was born in New Brunswick," he said. "I didn't want to be a Dutch guy skating for another country. I'm a Canadian and I'm really proud to be representing this country."

It was as if everything changed the moment Bloemen moved to Calgary. It couldn't be a more opposite feeling than from what he experienced in Holland — he felt supported by the Canadian team and coaches. 

"I've never had this feeling before," Bloemen said. "We're trusting each other and believing in each other. It feels like a family."

Just a year after relocating, in 2015, Bloemen set a world record in the 10,000 metres with a time of  twelve minutes, 36.30 seconds. Bloemen said that race, in Salt Lake City, was "sweet" on so many levels and validated his move to Canada.

Fair chance

"The way I've always seen it is that I have a belief in myself and have the potential to win races," he said. "I've always believed I could do this if I got a fair chance."

His confidence is at a high heading into the Olympics, buoyed by another world record this past December, marking 6:01.86 in the 5,000.

"My biggest motivation is not about beating other people. It's about racing myself. Being better every day," he said.

While the move to Canada has been flawless in many ways, the early days weren't the easiest, in large part because he had fallen in love shortly before leaving the Netherlands. Her name is Marlinde, and the distance was something the couple had to confront.

Long-distance relationship

"I told her right when I made the decision to move to Canada I'm not going to be around here much longer and we'll have to break up," he said. "She asked me if she should come over. Maybe we could make something out of it.

"I was so happy she asked me that. I couldn't have asked that of her."

Shortly after Bloehmen made the move to Calgary, Marlinde followed and in 2015 the two were married. They haven't looked back. 

"It was hard at first for her," she said. "She didn't have a job. Her working permit was only valid for 10 months. It took a while for her permanent residence to kick in. I was training and she was at home doing nothing.

"Now she has a fun job and is getting to know people. She's really happy here."

In a matter of three years Bloemen went from not knowing if he would ever skate again, to setting world records, getting married and competing in his first Olympics — draped in the maple leaf and bursting with pride because of it.

"I think the Canadian team have given me a chance and taken the time to teach me how to handle myself," he said. "I didn't only become a better skater here I've become a better person here."

"If I skate my best race I will be on the podium."