Reigniting the British Speed Skating tradition, that’s what Ellia Smeding, Cornelius Kersten are after. “Great Britain has a great Speed Skating history, but it’s forgotten”, says Kersten. The British Speed Skating couple aims at the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing and set up their own coffee company to finance their campaign.
Kersten grew up in the Netherlands and inherited the Speed Skating passion from his Dutch father, who took him to the 400m track in Haarlem. As a junior he competed in Dutch national championships, but he started racing for Great Britain, when he was 18 years old.
“My mother is British and I’ve always held dual nationality,” Kersten explains. “When I moved from the juniors to the seniors, I suffered a groin injury and it’s difficult to make it into a Dutch professional team once you lose connection.”
Cornelius Kersten (GBR) at the ISU European Speed Skating Championships 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
His dual nationality handed Kersten another opportunity, which became real when he got in touch with Stephen Airey, who worked for National Ice Skating Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland [NISA]. Airey lived in The Hague, the Netherlands, and his son Sam Airey was a Speed Skater too.
Because there’s no 400m track in Great Britain, Airey organized the British Championships in The Hague. “Figure Skating and Short Track are more popular in Britain and the long track legacy has faded away”, says Kersten. With Johnny Cronshey winning a silver medal at the World Allround Championshipsin Swiss Davos in 1951, Great Britain has a Speed Skating history indeed.
Moving to Harlingen
It was in The Hague that Kersten first met the girl who would later become his girlfriend. “I think I was about 14 or 15 years old,” Smeding laughs. “I also skated at the British championships. Cornelius and I won almost every medal, and our mothers thought it would be nice to take a picture of us together.”
Like Kersten, Smeding also has a Dutch father and a British mother. She lived in the UK until moving to the Netherlands at age eight.
Smeding explains: “My parents met in England and I was born in the UK. They thought it would be nice to teach their daughters about their Dutch heritage when I was eight years old. Three months in the Netherlands became sixth months, and in the end my parents decided to buy a house and settle in Harlingen, Friesland.”
Back in the UK, Smeding had already enjoyed inline skating and she picked up the sport in her second homeland.
“I liked it a lot and inline skating combines well with Speed Skating in the winter, so that’s how I got on the ice,” she says.
“I’m not a natural talent like Cornelius, so I never really skated at national championships, but I really got into racing when Stephen Airey called to ask whether I was interested in the British long track Speed Skating program.”
Kersten and Smeding regularly met at races in the years thereafter, but they really got to know each other at the 2017 Winter Universiade.
Smeding laughs: “We knew each other superficially and then all of a sudden we got into this program, and we were stuck together in a team for four weeks at the Junior World Cup in Collalbo and the Winter Universiade in Kazakhstan.”
Speed Skating, business and the Olympics
They got along well end fell in love. “He’s my boyfriend, team partner and business partner,” says Smeding.
Kersten adds: “We have a company together, we skate together, we train together, we travel together.”
Ellia Smeding (GBR) at the ISU Junior World Cup Speed Skating (ITA) 2017 ©International Skating Union (ISU)
Smeding and Kersten hope to qualify for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games, but their sport is not funded in Great Britain, so they have to be creative to make ends meet. Last year they set up their own coffee business, Brew '22.
“The name refers to the Beijing Games”, says Kersten. “We want to brew ourselves to the Olympics.
“We love coffee and it’s sometimes difficult to get good coffee at training camps. Then I saw these single cup filters in Japan, which I couldn’t find anywhere in Europe. We figured we might as well start a company ourselves and it grew rapidly. Now we’ve got our single cup filters and we’ve got the beans and we got mugs.”
Smeding adds: “We moved into a new warehouse and now we’re juggling, being an athlete and being business people. It’s working out really well and it’s really exciting.”
While the business is doing well, Speed Skating still is their main passion. Smeding: “If I had to choose? Speed Skating, hundred percent, but we’re passionate about both things. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to put in the hours, both in the business and in Speed Skating. At the moment the business is there to help us get better in skating. That’s priority number one, and then hopefully after that, it’s something to continue to grow after our skating career too.”