For Matthias Fausti, it was all red flags already. The Belgian skater suffered from a thigh injury for a long time, which is partly why he took part in the disappointing Olympics, after which the Flemish government stopped his funding. “It was one stop plus one is two,” he admits. There was only one problem. “I wasn’t ready for that yet.”
The Brugge native didn’t want his skating career to end in such a disappointing fashion and has now found a new home. The newly founded Novus team ensures that a foreign legion of skaters will continue to dream of an Olympic medal.
The initiative came from Briton-Dutch Cornelius Christine, who played for Great Britain at the Beijing Olympics. Last year he skated at Worldstream, the team that collapsed after the departure of Jota Leerdam. He then approached one of his coaches, Australian Daniel Gregg, who knew a way to keep going. “Professional cycling teams really do everything remotely,” he explains in the team’s presentation at Thialf. “Cyclists can live wherever they want, and the coaches do the testing and training from the other side of the world.”
According to him, there is no reason why it should not be done also in skating. In fact, there is a reason why this is necessary in skiing, because skiing knowledge and facilities at the highest level are not available in every country. And there isn’t much commercial money for skiing, except in Holland and perhaps a little in Japan.
With the help of an app, Greig can monitor skaters and adjust training schedules accordingly. It’s a way to guide them without having to always be on the ice with them. Useful for a team that doesn’t have a lot of money (yet). Moreover, skaters from all over the world can join.
Most popular name
Austrian sprinter Vanessa Herzog, who reported to the team herself, is by far the most popular name at the moment. She already won the gold at the World Cup in the 500 meters in 2019, but in the Games she placed fourth twice. She mainly trains with her husband in Austria, but she also has weekly contact with Greig and is joining two training camps this year. “She loves that extra guidance,” Greg says. “It’s better for her.”
Dutchmen Thomas Jeerdink, Naomi Verkerk and Dion Voskamp train primarily at Heerenveen. The latter, also from Worldstream, managed to qualify for the first World Cup just a few weeks ago. In addition to Christine and his partner Elijah Smeding, who also plays for Great Britain, Belgians Sandrine Tass and Fausti are part of the team, which also includes five foreign skaters in the marathon. “There is no point in having two-thirds of the skating medals go to the Netherlands,” says team manager Lewis Kroll of his motivation to help shape the team.
Lack of internationalization is a frequent concern in skiing. Especially after the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, alarm bells rang out among the Dutch festivities. The national anthem was played eight times on the rink, and only four times a different national anthem. Of the 36 medals, no less than 23 ended up being around a Dutch neck.
Since then, Dutch hegemony has declined significantly. At the Beijing Olympics, the Dutch won twelve medals out of 42, including six gold.
However, a helping hand is certainly not an unnecessary luxury for top-tier international players. The Novus team isn’t offering heavy contracts at the moment, but a common ski suit should be available soon. The team is consulting with Thialf to arrange better training hours. There is also a strong search for more sponsors, but certainly for now skaters still rely on personal money lenders and union contributions.
Crowdfunding brought in some money for Vosté. In addition, he works two days a week moving kitchens. “It’s also kind of training, because you’re pulling and jogging anyway,” he says.
He is not perfect, but he tries to see the positive in him. The work ensures that he can also think of things other than skateboarding. This is sometimes necessary. “After the games, I had a hard time with it,” he explains. But thanks to Novus’ flexible low-budget model, it’s now looking forward to it again. “Now it doesn’t matter anymore, because we are going to try to skate hard. I am still convinced of this Olympic medal.
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