GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- In the Gangneung Oval on Saturday night, long track speedskater Carlijn Schoutens stepped up to the starting line for the 3,000-meter final, planting her American flag-painted skates into position on the ice. Though she represents the United States in these Games, Schoutens could have chosen another red, white and blue flag: the Netherlands.
Born in New Jersey in 1994 to Dutch parents working at Princeton, Schoutens holds dual citizenship. Her family moved back to the Netherlands when she was just 7 months old, but in 2001, her parents moved stateside again for a year. It was then that Schoutens fell in love with the U.S. While living in Virginia, she learned English, studying with her American classmates and playing soccer after school.
After moving back to the Netherlands again at the end of the year, she followed her sister into speedskating. Initially scared of the sport, Schoutens nonetheless began enjoying the Dutch pastime and “just never quit.”
Her persistence paid off.
After skating for the Dutch at the junior level, Schoutens was recruited by U.S. national team sprint coach Matt Kooreman in 2014, with the opportunity to move to Salt Lake City and skate for US Speedskating. A return to the States appealed to her, and at 19 years old, she packed up her bags and moved halfway around the world.
“I think there’s always a special bond and feeling if you’re born in that country,” she acknowledged when competing for an Olympic spot at the U.S. trials. “To be an American always gives me that pride.”
Her speedskating success as an American national came quickly. Schoutens made her first world cup team within a year and podiumed four times at the 2014-15 U.S. national championships. The 2015-16 season was marred by a concussion, but when she was healthy again, Schouten continued to skate for the U.S. on the world cup circuit, racing in the 3,000, 5,000 and team pursuit.
When the U.S. Olympic Team Trials took place last month, she made her world-class experience known, finishing first in the 3,000 and 5,000 events. Her dominant presence in these races qualified her as the sole woman to represent the U.S. in both those distances at PyeongChang 2018.
And how has her experience been so far, representing Team USA?
“It’s been amazing… To race on this day in my first-ever Olympics, I was so excited for it and I still am. It was an experience of a lifetime,” she gushed.
She noted that she was “definitely a little bit disappointed” by her 22nd-place finish in her debut, but is working with her coach to analyze and improve for her next competition on the ice. After all, Saturday’s race may have been her first Olympic race, but it will not be her last.
Schoutens will also compete in the 5,000 on Feb. 16 and potentially the team pursuit on Feb. 21. Look for her red, white and blue - American - skates then.