It takes some getting used to, even for a three-time Olympic champion. Led by Jeroen Otter, Suzanne Schulting rose to great heights. It earned her – already before her 25th birthday – six Olympic medals and seven gold World Cup medals.
But after seven years, it is no longer Otter, but Niels Kerstholt on the ice already national coach of the Dutch short trackers. Otter has taken a sabbatical, it is still unclear in which position he will return to the KNSB.
It is quite a change for Schulting, not being able to kick off a season with Otter’s familiar approach, but with former top short tracker Kerstholt at the helm. The first weeks were so difficult that Schulting sometimes even cried on the track. “He is still very much looking: who is Suzanne? And I am looking for it: who is Niels.”
“You are in the investigative phase”, Schulting describes their collaboration in the run-up to the first matches. “Niels has to get to know eighteen athletes, Jeroen got one or two more every season that he had to get to know. That is of course very different.”
Kerstholt’s approach initially caused uncertainty at Schulting. “It is stimulating, but at a certain point I am also very much looking for my own routine. What did I do last year, what did I do the year before?”
“Sometimes it’s difficult. You have a new coach with new incentives, but sometimes you don’t know how you are doing. That takes some time. Now that the season is approaching, I notice that I’m starting to find that again. “
“Oh yes, those are the good lap times”, Schulting describes the confidence in herself that she was looking for, “this is how it should be”.
Kerstholt wants a lot
It is also not easy for Kerstholt, filling Otter’s shoes. “When you take over from a success coach, that is usually a very difficult task. That does not alter the fact that you can also teach new things. I notice from the athletes that everyone looks at the story in a different way, with a different That is also refreshing and I think that is appreciated by athletes.”
“I’ve noticed that I want a lot. But to get everything aligned and to bring continuity, you’ll be a few months further before you know it. We have to take the rest and time to improve it step by step. let go.”
After the success of the Beijing Games – four medals, including two gold – Schulting wants to loosen the reins a bit this season. Not that she is no longer eager, but in the post-Olympic season the pressure can be a bit off. “I’m still working on where I can improve myself. And it frustrates me when certain things don’t work out.”
“But I had a much more relaxed summer than last year. Many training camps and corona made it quite panicky. The world is open again, we could go to the terraces again. It has been very nice for me to skate on a slightly more relaxed way to approach it.”
“I’ve been pretty tight for myself for the past two years, everything for the greater purpose. I did need to relax for a while.”
The main goals of Schulting are the races that are only held after New Years. “I want to be a bit more relaxed in the first part of the season. My focus is on the European Championship, the World Cup final in Dordrecht and the World Cup, those are the three most important matches for me.”
“Until then I want to skate the World Cups nice and solid. Of course I will not settle for silver or bronze, or if I am not on the podium. But the focus is more on the second half of the season to rest my head a little more to give.”
Kerstholt’s ambition can be summed up in two words. “Winning medals. As a coach I am looking for continuity and I hope that they will gain skills that will help them in the coming years. You can be the best now, but you also want to win Olympic gold in four years. Then you may have to don’t want to deliver every day and look at your result.”
“Sometimes you have to take a step back to calm down mentally. I’ve been working on that and I want to see that in competitions, that maybe there is something different tactically. We have to see how that works out.”
Watch below an interview with 25-year-old Kay Huisman, who hopes to qualify for the World Cup cycle for the first time this season: