SHELTON, Conn. -- US Speedskating’s 2018 Tour of Olympians, the first of its kind from the organization, stopped by The Rinks – SportsCenter of Connecticut as one of its first stops, allowing for young speedskaters to practice on the ice with some famous faces: Olympians Jessica Kooreman and Carlijn Schoutens.
Kooreman, a two-time Olympic short track skater, ran drills and practiced falling into the pads around the rink with some of the older students while PyeongChang long track bronze medalist Schoutens worked on skating skills with younger students.
The 14-stop tour, which continues through April 10, is designed to engage member skaters around the nation and attract new fans and skaters.
Kooreman and Schoutens only met for the first time in May 2017, when US Speedskating brought their long and short track teams together for a training camp. They rode their bikes together, and in late March found themselves on the first leg of the Tour of Olympians.
“We really just want to be available,” Schoutens said. “We told our story a couple times in different ways. It’s pretty easy to walk in a room and gauge what might work best and try to talk in a way that will work. It’s been exciting. We try to talk to as many kids as we can!”
Then, the 15 or so speedskaters played a game of “hand soccer,” invented by 2002 Olympian for Germany and US Speedskating’s Events and Membership Director Marion Wohlrab. Team members pass a ball around on the ice only using one hand. The trick is that it forces the athletes in a low position, reinforcing technique. Not even Schoutens had played before, but said it was fun.
“They’re skating around for 10 minutes in a low position without even realizing it,” Wohlrab said. “Sometimes you have to trick the kids into doing something which helps in conditioning without them even knowing.”
After the lesson, the kids and parents were invited to get up close and personal with the Olympians, asking about everything from diets to goal setting to safety on the ice.
Kooreman stressed the importance of setting incremental goals. When she was growing up, she wanted to beat the boys and the older skaters at her inline skating club, and eventually broadened her goals to wanting to win national titles. She writes her goal lap times on her mirror so she sees it on a daily basis.
Schoutens continually asked herself, “What can I achieve in this workout?” Whether it was getting low while skating, gaining speed or nailing her turns, there was always something to be gained from every workout — instead of merely going through the motions.
When Kooreman told the crowd she trains between eight and nine hours per day, a shocked groan rang through some of the youngest kids. However, Schoutens and Kooreman were quick to note that that was a steady progression; they didn’t jump into those long training days overnight, and that certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for athletes new to the sport.
Schoutens said staying honest with yourself is a key component to a long and successful career. Simply asking, “Am I still having fun?” can indicate whether it’s time to take the next step in training or to take a step back.
Schoutens also said it’s important to take your injuries seriously. When she sustained a concussion, she needed a year to fully heal. But, the more patient you are, she said, the more quickly you can return to training. Kooreman added that she doesn’t get on the ice without full cut-proof gear, even when she’s just going for fun.
Kooreman and Schoutens also talked about their training diets. Kooreman said she starts her day with carbs and proteins, such as oatmeal with eggs, and has protein shakes and bars throughout her training session. For lunch, she has sandwiches, and for dinner, usually sticks to more protein and vegetables with fewer carbs. Schoutens gave an example more relatable for the kids: if you drink a soda, you can’t spend those calories on something that might fuel you better throughout your training day, like a piece of whole wheat bread.
The opportunity to compete in short track in Korea — a country known for its excitement over the sport — was an added Olympic perk for Kooreman.
“It helped hook me up with quite a few pins along the way,” she said, estimating that she came home from PyeongChang with more than 50 pins — way more than she collected in Sochi. “I was trying to get all the pins that I could because it’s something cool to have as memorabilia. Any time you told someone, or they figured out, that you were in short track, they wanted to take pictures and they thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was cool to be in a place where you’re at the Olympics and your sport is known as being the superstar.”
She even said athletes from other countries were asking to trade jackets at the Closing Ceremony.
“I’m not wearing another country’s jacket around town! I represent the U.S. They just think our stuff is so cool. But we do look good!”
Neither Kooreman nor Schoutens have retired, though they haven’t committed to a run at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
“I don’t know where I’m at right now. I’m going day by day, having fun touring with US Speedskating and giving back to the youth and trying to get people interested in our sport,” Kooreman said.
She hasn’t removed herself from the drug pool, and was even tested before leaving for the tour. When she’s finished on the tour, she’ll resume her online college classes and keeping up to date with her real estate license.
Schoutens still plans to go back to medical school, which she has put on hold for now.
“I still want to ride this wave, skating is going so well,” she said, adding that her target date for being back on the ice is May 1. “I think I can still improve so I want to try and do that. I’m staying in Salt Lake. I don’t know for how long, but that’s my plan.”
Schoutens’ team pursuit bronze medal was the most popular PyeongChang memento of the evening. Parents and athletes posed for pictures and passed the medal around.
“I don’t, obviously, want it to get damaged, but I know how magical that feeling can be when you can touch an Olympic medal,” Schoutens said. “So I want to give them all that moment, but I also watch it like a hawk so they won’t drop it or anything.”
Kooreman and Schoutens were part of the first six stops of the tour, while three-time long track Olympian Mitch Whitmore and 2018 short track Olympian Aaron Tran took over for the next four. For the third leg of the tour, beginning April 6, long track Olympians Jonathan Garcia and Jerica Tandiman will be the featured athletes.
By visiting the tour and trying the sport, US Speedskating is offering a year of complimentary membership. More info on the tour, along with a full schedule of dates, is available here.