Dutch speed skater Ted-Jan Bloemen wants to compete for Canada
Bloemen's father was born in New Brunswick
The Dutch are to speedskating as Jamaicans are to sprinting and Kenyans to distance running.
So it's significant when an athlete from the country so dominant in speedskating wants to wear the Maple Leaf.
Ted-Jan Bloemen arrived in Calgary on Tuesday with the intention of racing for Canada in the future. How soon he can will be determined by how quickly Bloemen can sort through the red tape of switching countries.
He set the eighth-fastest time in the world last year, but there were seven Dutch guys in front of him. If he were to skate for Canada, he'd basically be the fastest non-Dutch guy.- Canadian speedskating coach Bart Schouten
"The reason I'm coming to Calgary is I want a new challenge and I want to do something really cool to enjoy speedskating again," Bloemen said at the Calgary International Airport.
"For quite a lot of years now I am trying to make the step to the podium internationally and I can't quite make it. At a certain point, it became too difficult changing teams and the really bad season I had last year.
"I wanted something new, a new challenge for myself, to find some fun in speedskating again because I'm not done with speedskating. I love it too much."
Bloemen says his father, Gerhard-Jan, was born in Bathurst, N.B., before emigrating to the Netherlands with his Dutch parents.
The Netherlands gobbled up 23 out of a possible 36 speedskating medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, including a podium sweep in four events.
Bloemen says an early-season illness set him back in his bid to make the Olympic team. The 27-year-old from Terherne did, however, skate a personal best time of 13 minutes, 8.57 seconds in the 10,000 metres in December.
"He set the eighth-fastest time in the world last year, but there were seven Dutch guys in front of him," Canadian speedskating coach Bart Schouten said. "If he were to skate for Canada, he'd basically be the fastest non-Dutch guy."
Bloemen finished third in the 5,000 and 10,000 at the 2010 world all-around championships. He will train at Calgary's Oval, which produced Olympic champions Catriona Le May Doan, Cindy Klassen and Clara Hughes
Given his age, he has upside in that speedskaters in distance races need time to develop a big engine. They generally peak in their 30s. Hughes, for example, won Olympic gold in the women's 5,000 at age 33.
Bloemen contacted Schouten just prior to the Winter Games in February.
"He'll have to keep improving, which I think he can. He's only 27, so he's getting into the strength of his career," Schouten said. "He'll be in a really good training program with really good training partners which will help him a lot."
Bloemen's chances of racing the 10,000 at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, are better with Canada than with the Netherlands.
With distance skaters Lucas Makowsky of Saskatoon and Mathieu Giroux of Montreal retiring, there's room on the Canadian team in men's endurance events.
Schouten believes Bloemen and distance prospect Jordan Belchos of Toronto, who is ranked in the world's top 20, can push each other towards the international podium.
"Bringing Ted-Jan as a training partner for Jordan Belchos, I think we'll have two really good guys," Schouten said.
"We're actually thinking that Ted-Jan and Jordan will be good internationally, top 16 in the world. I think Ted-Jan can be top five for sure. If Jordan makes another step, maybe he can be top 10 in the world and gradually move up."
Canada's long-track speedskating team could use more medal prospects.
After collecting a combined 13 medals in the 2006 and 2010 Winter Games, the long-track team won two in Sochi. Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., took silver and bronze in the 1,000 and 1,500 respectively.
Makowsky, Giroux and Morrison won men's team pursuit gold in 2010 and were fourth in Sochi. A speedskater of Bloemen's calibre will be an asset on the pursuit team as well, Schouten said.
What has yet to be determined in the soonest Bloemen can race for Canada. He's secured his release from the Dutch speedskating federation and has applied for a Canadian passport.
"It's probably going to take quite some time," Bloemen said of his passport. "Nine or 10 months. You either need the passport or you need to live here for one year."
Bloemen must also get clearance from the ISU to switch countries. Schouten says it could be a full calendar year after Bloemen's arrival in Canada before he can step to the start line wearing red and white instead of orange.
"It might be a possibility that he can race in February or March, 2015, but we're not 100 per cent sure on that," Schouten said.