(Reuters) - For most countries the battle for supremacy begins in earnest at next month’s Winter Olympics, but when Denmark’s trio of speed skaters line up for the mass start in South Korea they will already have achieved their dream.
Elena Rigas, Viktor Thorup and Stefan Due Schmidt qualified for the Pyeongchang Games by spending the best part of the last year traveling to training camps and international competitions on a budget of about 50,000 euros ($60,975.00).
There were no five-star hotels, coach Jesper Carlson told Reuters in a telephone interview. Often they slept at the homes of friends, or used the accommodation booking service AirBnB.
“The way we’re doing it, I’d say ours is probably the lowest budget of all the teams,” Carlson said.
“We normally don’t live in hotels, we use AirBnB and we’ve also been able to ask people if we can live at their places for free.
“That’s something I learned through all of this, to actually finance a project and find the right places to fund it. It’s one of the main obstacles I’ve been fighting.”
The trio spent anywhere between 180 to 200 days away from home and traveled to seven competitions and 11 training camps during the year and had got used to roughing it, Carlson said.
“I’m really proud that I have a national team that are able to sleep on a borrowed mattress in a borrowed house and still perform at the highest level,” he added.
“So whenever we come to a hotel, that’s luxury for us. I really like that instead of the other way around.”
What was even more remarkable the trio have made the Games is that Denmark does not have a pedigree for the sport like their European neighbors.
Only two speed skaters have represented the country at an Olympics - Cathrine Grage at the Vancouver Games in 2010 and Kurt Stille in 1960 and 1964.
However, what the country does have is a vibrant inline skating community and it is from these ranks that Carlson has drawn his team from.
“In 2010, I sat down and wrote a project of how we could get skaters to the Winter Olympic Games in 2018,” Carlson added.
“I found it very interesting that you could combine our inline training and knowledge and use it on the ice, because what we actually did was that even in a very short time we managed to be really good on the ice.”
The path from inline to speed skating is a well-traveled one, with similarities in technique allowing skaters to move relatively easily between the two sports.
“It gives us a training background, so we’re able to adapt pretty fast to the ice,” Carlson said.
“We’ve been training for many years so when we hit the ice for the first time it takes very few times on the ice to actually feel we can perform.
“It’s a shortcut, because it is the same movements.”
Funding from the global body the International Skating Union to narrow the gap between the rest of the world and the powerhouse Netherlands, also helped with the transition programs.
Rigas won Denmark’s first speed skating medal in an international competition when she took silver in the mass start at the ISU World Cup in Calgary in December, and Carlson will be satisfied with a single top-five finish at the Games.
“When we started this it was only a dream. It was a dream of going to the Olympics,” he said.
“It’s a funny feeling, because our main goal was to qualify and now we’ve qualified so we’ve got to reframe our goals I think.
“To actually also compete at the Olympics and do good there... we’re very excited.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury
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