Nils Van Der Poel Wins Olympic Gold After Joining the Army and Trying New Sports

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  • Swedish speed skater Nils van der Poel won gold in the 5000 meters at the 2022 Olympics.
  • Between the Olympics, van der Poel joined the military, ran ultra-marathons, parachuted, and more.
  • He said trying new things gave him a new perspective on speed skating, a sport he says “sucks”.

Swedish speed skater Nils van der Poel did not have the usual four-year period between Olympics.

After finishing a disappointing 14th place in the 5,000 meters at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, van der Poel decided to try new things.

According to Kevin Draper of The New York Timesvan der Poel joined the Swedish military, ran ultra-marathons, skydived, partied, biked across Sweden, and more while taking a break from skating.

For van der Poel, it was all an attempt to avoid burning out after training in speed skating, a sport he claims “sucks”.

“When you’re a professional athlete in a sport that sucks as much as speed skating, you have to find a way to make it a little less lame,” van der Poel told Draper. “And whatever you can inspire, you have to find it.”

He added: “I had to make it adventurous, because I knew there would come a time when it wouldn’t be adventurous anymore, when I would lock myself up in Inzell [Germany] for two months just for that. But I knew if I was going to endure this, I had to, like, build a mountain of motivation because I was going to need that motivation someday.”

van der Poel told Draper that speed skating training is too “monotonous” to do every day. By trying other activities, he found himself able to return to training with enthusiasm.

This paid off in Beijing, as van der Poel won him gold in the 5,000 metres, finishing in 6 minutes, 8.84 seconds, an Olympic record.

In an interview in 2020, van der Poel told the International Skating Union that stepping away from speed skating and trying other activities has given her a new perspective.

“Being away from the sport makes you see it from another perspective…When you’re in the military doing reconnaissance, sometimes you look at an object for days and days and you start to put it all back together. question: ‘Why the hell would I do that? I want to skate 400m circles as fast as possible? What’s the idea behind that?’

Although he has interests beyond the ice, van der Poel told Draper that he could continue skating, saying he hadn’t been able to stop him for good yet.

“I tried to quit twice and failed. I don’t think I will succeed this time either.”

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