Trailblazer Kersten takes long track to Olympic dream

It’s taken a lot of adulting for Cornelius Kersten to achieve his childhood dream.

Kids don't drift off with thoughts of broken collarbones, 6am sessions, cold shoulders, coffee start-ups and intricate qualification calculations.

But that’s the life that Kersten chose and it’s that path that will lead to him becoming the first speed skater to represent Team GB in 30 years in Beijing.

“I knew what my mission was and where I wanted to go to and I’ve always just been quietly working towards that,” he said.

“Step by step, I got a lot closer. Last year, I finished 11th at the World Championships and that established me in the game. I got a bit more respect and people actually looked at me.

“It’s been quite a long and lonely journey - the team isn’t that big. We’ve had COVID in the last two years, too, so competition was limited and so was training.

“I’m very happy that we are where we are now and everything fell into place. To be part of Team GB and going to the Olympics is a dream come true.”

The globetrotter was born in Haarlem, Netherlands to a speed skating-obsessed father and a British mother, who left home in Islington for an internship in the country and never left.

Kersten was reared in a nation obsessed by the oval and competed in the Dutch ranks as a junior before taking his chance to race in red, white and blue.

It was an ambition fired by the attempts of fellow pioneer Philip Brojaka to qualify for Vancouver 2010.

“From the age of 12, I had it in mind to represent Great Britain,” he said.

“I met Phil and was very inspired by him and wanted to go down that route as well.

“Ten years ago, I spoke to Stephen (Airey), who is one of the people who did a lot of work to set up the long track programme. We eventually got the room to grow and when that was in place, it was an easy decision.

“I remember watching London 2012 and seeing all the cyclists crush it - I love track cycling and it was beautiful to see Team GB on the top of their game there.”

If short track speed skating is the impudent, thrill-seeking child then long track is its cerebral older sibling, ever-present on the Olympic programme since 1924.

It is all about sole focus and fine margins - raced around a 400m track. Kersten will compete over 1000m and 15000m, specialising in the former.

“The beautiful thing about it is that you have people pushing themselves to their limits all the time, even in long distances,” he said.

“When you throw yourself into a corner at full speed of 40mph, you’re in control but you have to be slightly out of control. One wrong move, you’re out and you’re going flying.

“If you hit it right, you can feel yourself blasting through the corner and it’s amazing.”

His successful attempts to survive and thrive on the global circuit have been shared with girlfriend Ellia Smeding, who also represents Great Britain in the sport.

The pair have founded a coffee company, named ‘Brew 22’, to propel their campaign. Their one-cup coffee filters are a smash hit among fellow skaters.

“I'm really proud of what we've achieved together, and it's been a beautiful journey,” he said.

"Coffee is my passion and the company is kind of like our little baby, so it does also take time and energy. Other athletes have a proper offseason and we need to come into the office really quickly and sort some orders out.

“On the one hand, it’s been a nice distraction because it gives you another focus, but that costs you a bit of energy. It’s all about finding that balance there.”

Kersten has sent personal bests - and therefore national records - tumbling this season, finishing ninth at a World Cup to become the first Brit to hit the top ten in 36 years.

He promises that when the Games roll around, there will be plenty more where that came from.

“The key to performing better this season is that mentally, I just realised what was still in me,” he said.

“That’s a very nice realisation moment, when you skate times you never expect to. And then all sudden, you're like, I still can go a lot faster, I just need to learn a lot more.

“I still don’t feel anywhere close to the top of my game.”

Sportsbeat 2021