Ted-Jan Bloemen has finally arrived

Canadian speed skater fulfils potential by winning gold for his 2nd medal in Pyeongchang

By Devin Heroux, CBC Sports

It was a fall afternoon in late October at the Calgary Olympic Oval. The speed skating season was just starting to ramp up for Ted-Jan Bloemen.

The confines of the Oval, at least for day-to-day training, were still somewhat new to him. He had only moved to Canada four years earlier. But when he made the decision to leave the speed-skating crazed country of Holland to move to Canada — everything changed.

On this day in October, he set a new track record in the 10,000-metre race. Bloemen felt confident — even then, he sensed something special could be happening for him leading into Olympics.

"When you race those you have to make them count," he said, huffing and puffing minutes after the race.

On Thursday night, on the biggest athletic stage, inside the Gangneung Oval in South Korea, Bloemen made it count.

He set a new Olympic record in the men's 10,000 and captured the first-ever Canadian gold medal in the distance.

"I always felt deep inside I was able to do something special on the ice but I was never able to show it," he said.

"It's really hard to put this moment into words. It's more feelings and emotions running through your mind. It's a slow realization that you're becoming an Olympic champion."

WATCH l Ted-Jan Bloemen reacts after his win

When it came time to step onto the top of podium, Bloemen could barely contain himself. His legs were still trembling from the race. But when he stepped up, he leaped into the air, tears in his ears, the Maple Leaf on his chest.

"When you win you always have that little bit of extra energy. That's the right time to release it."

Making the move to Canada

Prior to moving to Calgary in 2014, Bloemen lived and skated in the Netherlands. He was born there. Skating for the Orange Wave was the ultimate honour. But after never really getting the chance to excel the way he believed he could with their national team, Bloemen left for Canada. His father was born in New Brunswick so he had dual citizenship. It wasn't an easy decision to leave, but one Bloemen had to make.

"I had a find a different way to do it because I hit a wall in my career," he said. "I found that different path and I got way more than I would have ever hoped."

Bloemen admits he wasn't always easy to coach. He sometimes lacked discipline and wanted to do things his way. When he moved to Canada and began working with coach Bart Schouten, Bloemen quickly gained a new perspective. He felt supported. He felt part of a speed skating family. It was all he had ever wanted and needed to excel.

"I'm really grateful for all the people around me. I'm a really happy person and I've been so for a long time. I'm grateful for the team I have around me and my family," Bloemen said.

In his first Olympics at 31 years old, Bloemen has now captured silver in the men's 5,000 race and gold in the men's 10,000.

"For a speed skater this is the biggest stage you can perform on. So to win a race here that's the ultimate goal," he said.

Speed Skating Canada support

After the race, the coach who set out Bloemen's plan was beaming.

Throughout the entire race Schouten was on the ice letting Bloemen know his lap times, reminding him of his form and technique and encouraging him through the gruelling 25 laps.

But midway through the race, the coach was concerned.

"I didn't think his left leg was very good in the turn," Schouten said. "I actually was hoping that it wouldn't go sideways. Technically it wasn't his best race technically but he's stronger now. He wanted it."

Schouten was worried but never lost faith. He believed in Bloemen just like he had the second the skater arrived in Canada.

"I think he was really calm. A new Olympic record. He skated so well and the fact he stayed calm was amazing," Schouten said. "This is the pinnacle of your career when you set a goal and achieve it. It's a huge accomplishment."

Speed Skating Canada CEO, and three-time Olympic medallist, Susan Auch was in awe after Bloemen's race.

"He found his way to being a champion. That's amazing," she said.

Auch says Canadian speed skaters have always prided themselves on bringing their best at the Olympics despite not always being the biggest, most talented team. She says when Bloemen came to Canada they knew he was talented and could raise the level of the entire program.

"He came here looking for a chance and he got it. We gave him that belief that he was special. He was a superstar in our program. He knew how to work hard," Auch said.

So many things have changed for Bloemen over the last four years. A new country, culture, coach — he got married in Canada.

And that belief in him helped make the difference — he's now an Olympic champion.

"It made for a great combination. I've been feeling really happy and grateful," Bloemen said.