Heather Bergsma Plans Two-Year Break After Olympic Success

By Jeff Mills, News & Record | April 12, 2018, 3:54 p.m. (ET)

GREENSBORO — The four-year cycles of constant workouts, of traveling the world chasing fractions of seconds, of sore muscles and high pressure are over for now.

Heather Richardson Bergsma has her Olympic medal. A bronze in speedskating’s team pursuit at the PyeongChang Games.

And now she’s taking a break.

Bergsma, the 29-year-old High Point native and the face of American speedskating for the last decade, spoke at the Greensboro Sports Council’s monthly luncheon today at the Coliseum Terrace and told the gathering she plans to take two years off.

Only then will she decide whether to try for a fourth Winter Olympics. But for right now, all that matters is, well, right now.

“I’ve relaxed a lot,” Bergsma said. “It’s been really nice being back in North Carolina with my family. And since I’ve decided to take the next two years off, I haven’t done any training since the Olympics. It feels very, very weird. I was used to waking up before 7 a.m., having breakfast, doing my routine. You know? And now, my mom will call at 9 a.m. and be like, ‘You’re still at home?’ Yep. I’m watching TV.”

Bergsma lives in the Netherlands with her husband, Dutch speedskating star and three-time Olympic medalist Jorrit Bergsma. She took time out from a vacation visiting her parents, Pat and Jeff Richardson of High Point, to speak at today's meeting.

“I did skate a couple of times in the Netherlands, just for fun, before I came here,” Bergsma said. “I will definitely still stay active, but I’m also definitely not training. I like biking. Biking in the Netherlands is really fun, really simple.”

The two-year break from speedskating will be her first since graduating from High Point Central and setting off for Salt Lake City, Utah, in the summer of 2007 to try out Derek Parra’s wheels-to-ice program.

Since then, Bergsma has won 86 World Cup speedskating medals, including 34 golds. She’s a four-time overall world champion in the 1,000 meters, and in 2017 she won world championships in the 1,000 and 1,500.

Bergsma is a three-time U.S. Olympian, competing in the Vancouver, Sochi and PyeongChang Games. She has scored top-10 finishes in nine of 12 Olympic races.

And yet many of her Olympic memories were of disappointment, none harder than a seventh-place finish in the 1,000 at Sochi. She had won every 1,000-meter race she entered in the World Cup season leading up to those Russian Games.

“It is really, really hard,” Bergsma said. “I went to three Games, and I was expected to win medals the past two. And I only came home with one medal. It’s really difficult. A lot of it is timing. The year before (the PyeongChang Olympics), I was world champion in two events, and my 1,500-meter time would’ve won the gold medal this year. It just depends on the day.”

That’s why the U.S. team’s surprise bronze in the team pursuit means so much to Bergsma. She and teammates Brittany Bowe and Mia Manganello got into the eight-team event only when the Russians were disqualified, and the trio beat Canada in a head-to-head race for the bronze.

“As soon as I crossed the line, I couldn’t see straight,” Bergsma said. “It’s so hard to be moving and look up for a scoreboard. I didn’t see that we had got third. By the time I saw the board, Mia was already yelling, ‘We did it! We did it!’ It was an unbelievable moment.”

A moment Bergsma wanted to share with her parents. But they were half a world away, back home in High Point after spending the first week of the Olympics in South Korea.

“We won, and my phone was in the locker room,” Bergsma said. “All I wanted to do was talk to my mom, but I couldn’t get to my phone. Luckily, we had to go downstairs to get our podium outfits. As soon as we got down there, I grabbed my phone and called my mom. She was already crying.”

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