Lara van Ruijven: "I hope when the time comes, someone will tell me ‘It was nice, but now you’re done!’" ~ Passion/Patin/Vitesse - Passion/Speed/Skating


16 mars 2020

Lara van Ruijven: "I hope when the time comes, someone will tell me ‘It was nice, but now you’re done!’"

Lara van Ruijven is one of the reasons why the women’s short track team in the Netherlands is presently at its golden age and she hopes she can still have a positive impact on the team for a few more years.

By Carl Savard
Photos by Danny Kim, Oscar van den Bosch and Lara van Ruijven's personnal collection

Lara van Ruijven was a bit shy when we started chatting. From the get go, she told me she was a bit nervous when answering questions in english. The Dutch athlete says her french was good when she was young but she lost it and she then learned english in high school. After a few minutes of small talk and basic questions, it became evident that her english was much better then she made it sound and I was able to get to know more about the 2019 500m world champion. 

Born in Naaldwijk, a small community sitting just outside of The Hayes, Lara van Ruijven’s debut on the ice happened at a young age. “Speed skating entered my life when I was six years old. I started in long track and a friend of mine, Adwin Snellink, was skating too. One day our parents were chatting and talked about the possibility of me trying short track. I tried it and never went back to long track other than to work on things that could help me in short track.” Van Ruijven grew up in a family where sport was important. “I grew up playing soccer, tennis, practicing short track and field hockey. My father used to be a cyclist when he was young and my mom played tennis. My older brother was also playing field hockey. I was part of an active family. When I was about 10 years old, one of my dream was already to be olympic champion but I didn’t know if it was going to be in short track or field hockey. When I was seventeen I was invited to join the training center in Heerenveen and it’s at that moment that skating became more serious. At the time, I was in my last year of high school and I felt kind of sad that I had to move to another school to join the program and miss my graduation ball, but there was no way I was going to decline the invitation.” 

Moving to Heerenveen and joining the national team meant being trained by Jeroen Otter, arguably the best coach in the short track world at the moment. “Jeroen is always telling you the truth, even the things you don’t want to hear. He is really straightforward and doesn’t care if it’s something nice or not and it’s a good quality in a coach. He always wants to evolve and he doesn’t likes routine. He’s always looking for new things to help us get better like having skaters from other countries training with us. Some people are afraid to share their ways of training but I don’t think there are really big secrets surrounding it. I think it’s a great way to learn and it pushes you to get better. I also like the fact that we are with the boys on the ice during training. I can’t imagine being only with the girls. Even just for the atmosphere it’s great. Boys are more relaxed in training, they make jokes, releasing the pressure and I think it’s good.”

During the discussion, we talked for a moment about how much the program has evolved since she joined. “I remember when I joined the team, we were not that good in the relay even though the young ones joining now see us as a top team. We had to work hard. I remember we couldn’t follow in the relay and in the last ten laps there was always a gap between us and the leaders. Now the young skaters know that if they join the team there is a good chance they are going to skate for an A final.”  Other than the relay results, van Ruijven's career also grew fast. After starting by being a great relay athlete and eventually climbing the individual rankings, 2019 saw the 27-year-old become world champion. While working towards reaching the top is hard, staying there is even more difficult. “When I got back to training I was more relaxed than the previous season. Instead of thinking ‘I had a good season but didn’t get the medals and need to do more’ I was thinking “Oh I did it!’ and maybe that’s why at the beginning of the season I wasn’t as hungry as I used to be in the previous seasons and didn’t give the extra push needed to win. Even though everyone told me I would feel the pressure now that I had become a world champion, I didn’t really. I love the competition even though I’m always so nervous when the season starts. I’m not a beast in training and I have difficulties knowing where I stand when I’m not competing so competition feels good.”

Talking about competition, the men’s 500m has always been seen as the big show in short track, but for the last two seasons, the women’s 500m has been just as amazing. As reigning world champion on the distance, van Ruijven has to battle against the strongest group of women to ever race the distance in Martina Valcepina, Yara van Kerkhof, Natalia Maliszewska, Qu Chunyu, Fan Kexin and world record holder Kim Boutin. “It’s super fast right now and more women are performing at a higher level. It’s exciting for the fans but it’s exciting for the skaters too. It feels good just being in an A final now.”

With the season that just ended abruptly, we now are more than halfway through the olympic cycle leading to Beijing 2022. Like most athletes competing in an olympic driven sport, Lara van Ruijven’s focus is set on the Games. Although she seems to be reaching her peak, she also feels like her career is closer to the end than the beginning. “I can’t see myself still skating when I’m 34 like Charles Hamelin or Viktor Ahn. When I went to the Sochi Olympics I knew I was going to help the relay and was skating the 500m but I was not that good and thought ‘Next Olympics in Pyeongchang I’m going to skate the 500m again and win a medal and quit” but it didn’t go as planned. After Pyeongchang I didn’t feel like quitting despite not getting the results I had in mind. I felt I still could do much better. So now, I’m working on Beijing with the same goal of winning and I’ll evaluate what I do after the Games. Maybe I’ll skate one or two seasons after Beijing 2022 and then concentrate on studying law. I know now I’ll quit when I feel like I can’t get better but right now I’m still having fun. I discovered in the last few years that you can have plans but it doesn’t really mean anything. You can’t know in advance what is going to happen in your personal life and your athlete’s life. I don’t want to have a pathetic ending to my career. I hope when the time comes someone around me will tell me ‘Lara, quit! It was nice but now you’re done!’”

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