MILWAUKEE — Carlijn Schoutens wanted to be a doctor long before she ever thought of being an Olympian.
But the U.S.-born Dutch speedskater can soon list Olympian on her resume while her medical degree is still a few years off.
A member of the US Speedskating team since 2014, Schoutens, a 23-year-old distance specialist, qualified for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team in the 3,000-meter on Tuesday night. After winning the 5,000 in 7:12.27 at the U.S. Olympic Trials for Long Track Speedskating on Thursday evening, she can now add a second event to her Olympic program.
“Two out of two, I’m really happy,” she said with a smile.
With only two pairs skating the women’s 5,000, the race lacked drama. Schoutens skated in the final pair with Rebecca Simmons and made it known in the first lap that the Olympic berth was hers.
By the end of the race, Schoutens had lapped Simmons. And Petra Acker, skating in the first pair, finished second in the 5,000 with a time of 7:26.49.
The U.S. has one Olympic berth in the women’s 5,000 — a spot that Schoutens helped earn by finishing 11th in the only women’s 5,000 on the world cup tour this fall (in 7:11.45). Claudia Pechstein from Germany won that world cup 5000 in 6:56.60. With nine Olympic medals (including three golds in the 5,000), Pechstein is the most decorated speedskater, male or female.
The American women have never won an Olympic medal in the 5,000.
So how did a Dutch med student end up qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Team?
Schoutens’ parents are Dutch — her father a physicist, her mother a musician — and they were working at Princeton University in New Jersey when Carlijn was born in 1994. Born on U.S. soil, Schoutens holds dual citizenship.
When she was 7 months old, Schoutens returned with her family to the Netherlands, where her father was appointed a professor at the Institute of Theoretical Physics at the University of Amsterdam. Like most kids in the Netherlands, she learned to skate when she was about 6.
In 2001, the Schoutens family returned to the United States, this time to Virginia. Carlijn and her older sister enrolled in American schools (where Carlijn began learning almost flawless English, with only a hint of a Dutch accent). The family returned to the Netherlands within a year. But Carlijn retained her love for America.
Back in the Netherlands, Schoutens competed in junior races. But school came first, and by her late teens, she was enrolled at the Free University of Amsterdam studying medicine.
In 2014, when she was 19, Schoutens felt a tug to the return to the U.S. again.
“I think there’s always a special bond and feeling if you’re born in that country,” she said. “To be an American always gives me that pride, and I wanted to spend more time here when I could. As I got done with high school and some college in the Netherlands, I was ready to take that step again and go back to where I was born and spend more time in America.”
She also wanted to see how far speedskating would take her if she could commit to it fulltime. US Speedskating was willing to support her, so she moved to Salt Lake City. She also continued to pursue her medical degree remotely.
“One or two times a year, I’d go home and knock out a lot of exams,” she said. “Then I’d come back and train. That way I got to a point in medical school where my credits were secure, and I could take the break that I’m in now and could just skate.”
Her original plan was to stay in the U.S. for a year — “to have a fun year and try to get as good as I could be at this sport,” she said.
She got good quickly. Within a year, she was named to the world cup team.
“From then on, the dreams started to come obviously to get on the Olympic team,” she said. “That’s how it happened.”
But why leave the cradle of speedskating to pursue the sport in a far-off land? It’s like leaving the U.S. to pursue baseball in the Netherlands.
“The Netherlands is definitely the number one speedskating country in the world,” she admitted. “But in the end, there’s only so much you need to succeed. If you have one good team, one good coach and one good oval, that’s all it takes. I could find all that in Salt Lake City.”
But Schoutens’s speedskating career has not been all smooth ice. In September 2015, she fell during practice and hit her head on the ice. Like American teammate Brittany Bowe, she nursed concussion symptoms for months. Schoutens struggled all winter, and finally cut her season short in February. She did not feel completely recovered until the summer of 2016.
Schoutens’ parents were in the stands to witness their daughter making her first Olympic team. Are they happy that she will compete in the red, white and blue in PyeongChang rather than the orange of the Dutch team?
“I would assume so,” Schoutens said with a laugh. “I haven’t talked to them yet.”
The Dutch American will eventually return to medical school. Meanwhile, she has a couple of races to skate in PyeongChang — and one more race at trials.
“I’ll have to sit down and think a little bit about [my goals for the 2018 Olympic Games],” she said. “I have not thought that far ahead after this competition. So I’ll knock out that 1,500 on Saturday, then I’ll think about what to do next.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered four Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.