Beating Depression and Winning Gold

Stefan Groothuis headed to his first Olympic games in Torino in 2006 as the Dutch speed skating national champion. But an eighth place finish in the 1000 metres wasn’t what he had hoped for. On the Best in the World with Richard Parr podcast Stefan told me that it took him years to recover from that experience. “Maybe I was over focused,” he said.

“I skated a really good opener, my best opener ever. I skated the fastest first lap of the whole field of the competition. But then I made a really big mistake at the second to last corner. I flew out and lost a lot of time and I came eighth. To be honest several weeks after this race I was literally sick because of this competition. I had to throw up almost every time I had to think back at this race.”

A year later Stefan sliced his Achilles tendon with his skate. In 2010 he was sick leading up to the Vancouver Olympics. Again there was no medal for Groothuis at those games as he finished fourth. Five years of injures, illnesses and defeats all took their toll on the speed skater.

“I was really good, I was winning World Cups and for a lot of the time I was the best in the Netherlands. But at the really important games, the World Championships and the Olympic games of Vancouver, most of the time I came fourth which was a pretty big disappointment of course. The one thing I did all of those times from 2006-2011 was ‘well I messed it up, I have to work even harder and I have to be tougher on myself,’ which I did. But mentally it was pretty hard and I had a mental breakdown in 2011. That was of course a really tough time – to lift these mental problems.”

While suffering with depression, Stefan’s wife Ester was pregnant with their first child. His coach Jac Orie constantly helped him during this time.

“My coach, he was really supportive, he was not talking to me a lot about what I was going through with this depression, but what he did was he gave me the space and the trust that I could come back and everything would be fine in the end. And that was really important because physically I was terrible that summer. We did some time trials, for example and I was crushed by the women in our team which is not a good sign for getting into the winter.”

Getting back on the ice would ultimately assist Stefan’s recovery. “One of the things that did help me was sports itself,” he said.

“A known thing about depression is getting off your chair and doing things is an important factor to recover, so I did that.”

When he returned to competing Stefan changed his attitude.

“It made me think: ‘why am I doing all of this? For who am I doing all of this?’ The one thing I did was take sports a little less seriously than what I did before. Maybe I took it a little too seriously all of those years before that.”

It began to pay off. In 2012 he took gold at the World Single Distance Championships in Heerenveen and also won at the World Sprint Championships in Calgary. This helped his third Olympic experience in Sochi.

“Everything was coming more naturally and of ease. And that made a really big difference in the way that I went through the Olympic games of 2014 in comparison to Vancouver 2010 and Torino 2006. In 2006 and 2010 there was only one option for me and that was I have to win gold. And in Sochi, I thought I’m really good, I won the national championships to qualify, I can be the best in the World, I can be Olympic champion. But the reality is there are 40 other guys trying and there are a lot of guys who are really good.”

At the age of 32, Stefan Groothuis became one of the oldest speed skating Olympic champions. With a time of 1 minute, 8.39 seconds he claimed gold in the 1000 metres, ahead of Denny Morrison of Canada and Dutch compatriot Michel Mulder. Two-time reigning champion Shani Davis was eighth.

Enjoying the Olympic experience appeared to have helped his success.

“When I went to Torino there were always some festivities around the Dutch team and I was always thinking ‘oh well I have sore legs,’ and I only wanted to be busy with my speed skating. In Vancouver it was the same. In Sochi there were some festivities, for example the Dutch King was there, and the big opening ceremony. I was really enjoying it for the first time. I thought: ‘this is the games. This is something really special. And now I’m here I’m just going to enjoy all of these festivities as well and not see them as something that is standing in my way of getting my best performance.’”

A good workman never blames his tools is a saying that doesn’t necessarily apply to speed skating. According to 2014 Olympic Champion Stefan Groothuis his skates would need a lot of work to provide the optimum performance.

“There’s a rocker underneath your skate,” Stefan began to explain on the Best in the World with Richard Parr. “The skate is not totally flat. There’s a rocker in there and that has to be really perfect and we have special equipment, measuring equipment, and the English word for it is a jig and you put it in your skate and you can work on your skate with stones to make a perfect rocker in there. I can tell you there is a lot of work to make it perfect! There’s also a band in your skate. You can imagine skating is always going anti-clockwise. There’s a little bit of a bend in the blade so the skate already turns from itself with the corner.”

“There’s a lot of fine-tuning in there in how much do you want it to go with you because if it’s going too fast or it’s going too quick in the corner that won’t work.”

“Then you have the stance of the blade underneath your shoe and there are five directions that you can put it.”

It’s not just adjusting the footwear that speed skaters have tried to innovate to help create an advantage. Leading up to the 2018 Winter Olympics the Norwegian team changed the colour of their suits from red to blue.

There hasn’t been conclusive proof that blue suits will create faster times so any advantage could be psychological.

Speaking before the games in PyeongChang, Stefan feels that when the USA team changed their suits before the last Olympics it had a detrimental effect.

“It can also work in the wrong direction. I think that’s what happened to the Americans in the Sochi 2014 games for example. The Americans were really good for the pre-season for the Sochi games. Especially the women who were winning everything. And then they came up with a really special suit two weeks before the Olympics actually started. So they only had two weeks to get used to the suits themselves. Then one or two guys had a bad race in the suit and the whole team went mentally down, it seemed like from the outside, because they were all getting into a panic: ‘This suit is not good, this suit is really bad.’”

The Norwegians and the Americans aren’t the only ones to experiment. Dutch skater Stefan recalls an innovation attempt he tested.

“I really didn’t like this experiment. There was a time when they tried to put oil in the tube of your skate. And the oil was going through the blade and put on the ice at the front of the blade so you were constantly gliding over a thin film of oil but I was not really happy with that because I already felt the International Skating Union would forbid this after a while and that happened.”

Stefan Groothuis was speaking on the Best in the World with Richard Parr podcast.

16 Podcast Interviews with Winter Olympic Champions you have to listen to!

Gregor Schlierenzauer – Ski Jumping Olympic Champion

Nobody has won more ski jump World Cup titles than Gregor Schlierenzauer. The Austrian ski jumper won Olympic gold in the large hill team competition at the 2010 games.

On the Best in the World with Richard Parr podcast Gregor gives an insight into what exactly goes through his mind before he makes a jump.

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Hayley Wickenheiser – Ice Hockey Olympic Champion

Hayley Wickenheiser has four Olympic Gold medals and has won seven World titles. Not only that but Hayley represented Canada in softball at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Now retired from competitive sport Hayley talks about going to medical school, the businesses she’s involved with and her position on the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes Commission.

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Jasey-Jay Anderson – Snowboarding Olympic Champion

Jasey-Jay Anderson won gold in the parallel giant slalom at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. In this podcast, Jasey explains why he then started sacrificing results to improve his production of snowboards.

Jasey also talks about how a clown helped him ski, his mother’s words before the 2010 games and the story behind his lucky socks!

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Brad Jacobs – Curling Olympic Champion

Alongside two of his cousins, Ryan and E.J. Harden, Brad Jacobs led Canada to the gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. On this Best in the World with Richard Parr podcast the skip talks about the high level of competition in Canada and the pressure of performing for his country.

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Patrizia Kummer – Snowboard Olympic Champion

Patrizia Kummer won gold in the parallel giant slalom at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The snowboarder reveals she found it difficult to adjust when she became the Olympic Champion.

The Swiss competitor talks about her work with a mental coach and her studies in sports psychology. She also explains why she never gets nervous.

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Kim St. Pierre – Ice Hockey Olympic Champion

Kim St.Pierre is a three-time Olympic Champion and a five-time World Ice Hockey Champion.

On the podcast the Canadian reveals what it was like to face the United States on their home soil in the 2002 finals in Salt Lake City. Kim also describes the turning point in her career and her keys to success.

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Mario Matt – Skiing Olympic Champion

Mario Matt became the oldest person to win an alpine skiing Olympic gold medal when he won the men’s slalom at the 2014 Sochi games.

The Austrian talks about that feat on the podcast. He also discusses the difficulties a skier faces when travelling for competitions, his diet and competing in front of his own fans.

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Julia Mancuso – Skiing Olympic Champion

Julia Mancuso won Olympic Gold in the Giant Slalom competition at the 2006 Torino games. The American reveals on this podcast that she slept in a RV the night before the final and ate Pop Tarts for breakfast!

Julia talks about suffering from hip dysplasia, having a positive attitude and neurokinetic pilates.

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Jorrit Bergsma – Speed skating Olympic Champion

Jorrit Bergsma won the men’s 10,00 metres speed skating event at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. On this podcast he reveals why he withdrew as a substitute for the Dutch in the team pursuit at those games.

He talks about nearly representing Kazakhstan at the 2010 Vancouver games along with his marriage to fellow speed skater, four-time World Champion Heather Richardson-Bergsma.

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Jan Blokhuijsen –Speed skating Olympic Champion

Jan Blokhuijsen was part of the Dutch team that claimed gold in the men’s speed skating team pursuit at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

On the podcast, Jan talks about the difficulty of racing with your rivals and his relationship with Sven Kramer.

He describes what it’s like to reach a ‘state of flow’. Jan also reveals how he used social media to meet his model fiancée.

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Jonny Moseley – Moguls Olympic Champion

Jonny Moseley was one of the real innovators of freestyle skiing. The American won gold at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano but missed out on a medal four years later in Salt Lake City when he performed the Dinner Roll trick.

The former Saturday Night Live talks about coping with fear, marketing and how being an Olympic champion helps him in his new business.

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Jochem Uytdehaage – Speed skating Olympic Champion

Jochem Uytdehaage broke World Records in the 5 kilometres and 10 kilometres speed skating events to win gold medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

On the Best in the World with Richard Parr podcast, the Dutch skater talks about the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual sides of being an Olympic champion.

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Charlotte Kalla – Cross-country skiing Olympic Champion

Charlotte Kalla won Olympic gold in the 10 kilometres freestyle cross-country in Vancouver in 2010 and the 4x5km relay at the 2014 Sochi games.

The skier explains on the podcast why she trains by herself rather than with the rest of the Swedish national team.

She talks about how she copes with stress and what it’s like to have an airport named after her.

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Kelly Clark – Snowboarding Olympic Champion

Kelly Clark won gold in the half-pipe at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The American snowboarder talks on the podcast about singing before competing, along with her recovery routine and travelling.

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Nicola Thost – Snowboarding Olympic Champion

Nicola Thost was the first snowboarding Olympic champion in the Women’s half-pipe. The German won gold at the 1998 Nagano games.

Nicola talks about how the sport has changed since then, yoga and the mental side of sport.

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Chad Hedrick – Speed skating Olympic Champion

Chad Hedrick took gold in Olympic Speed skating in 2006. The Texan talks about what he learned as a champion athlete in his new career in real estate.

The Texan tells the story of how he became a Christian after winning the 5000 metres event in Turin.

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All of these interviews were part of the Best in the World with Richard Parr podcast series. Don’t miss any in the future by subscribing on iTunes and Stitcher

79 Jorrit Bergsma – Speed skating Olympic Champion

This week we learn from Jorrit Bergsma, the 10,000 metres speed skating Olympic Champion.

Following our interview with Jan Blokhuijsen in episode 75, Jorrit gives his side of the story on why he withdrew as the Dutch substitute for the Team Pursuit at the 2014 Olympics.

The three-time World Champion shares stories of his childhood, growing up on a houseboat in Friesland, in the north of the Netherlands.

Bergsma reveals how close he came to representing Kazakhstan at the 2010 Olympics.

He also talks about being married to a fellow speed skater, the four-time World Champion Heather Richardson-Bergsma.

You can continue to follow Jorrit’s journey on Instagram and twitter @jorritbergsma

If you want to support our podcast please head to patreon.com/bestintheworld

70 Jochem Uytdehaage – Speed skating Olympic Champion

In 2002 Jochem Uytdehaage broke World Records in the 5km and 10km speed skating events to win two gold medals.

This week he is our guest on the Best in the World with Richard Parr.

The Dutch skater talks about the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual sides of being an Olympic champion.

The 2x World Champion explains to Richard his thoughts on having a balanced life.

Jochem Uytdegaage discusses the successes and failures throughout his career, in particular, what went wrong after his victories at Salt Lake City in 2002.

You can learn more about Jochem on his website www.deuytdhaaging.nl.

He’s also on Twitter and Instagram with the same handle.

57 Chad Hedrick – Speed Skating Olympic Champion

This week we are inspired by the 2006 Olympic Speedskating Champion Chad Hedrick on the Best in the World with Richard Parr.

Chad Hedrick talks to Richard about using what he learned as a champion athlete in his new career in real estate.

The Texan speaks about when he first began skating and turning professional at the age of 16.

Chad also tells the story of how he became a Christian after winning his 5000 metres Olympic Gold Medal in Turin.

Goal setting, routine, and the Special Olympics are also discussed on this podcast.

You can learn more about Chad at chadhedrick.com or on his Instagram page @fromgoldtosold.