Carlijn Schoutens wants to bring the best of both worlds to the ice at the Olympics. She is American but has Dutch blood running through her veins. Can't hurt when you are competing at the Olympic speed skating oval, where the Dutch traditionally rule.
Her first race is Saturday's 3,000 meters, and the U.S. team is hoping she will provide some early momentum for a team seeking to bounce back from the zero-medal performance at the Sochi Games four years.
"I would count on her being willing to gut out a good hard 3K and we can always use that as inspiration," U.S. coach Matt Kooreman said.
Don't count on her winning a medal in her first Olympics, though. At 23, she is still honing her skills. A good showing close to the medals should be enough to fire up the U.S. team. And as a new American, she is more than willing to do so.
"Team USA is my team. In skating or any other sport now. I am part of them, but the Dutch remain my second choice," she said in an interview in Dutch.
Schoutens was born in Trenton, New Jersey, to Dutch parents who were working at Princeton University. She bounced between the U.S. and Netherlands as a youngster before she settled in Salt Lake City more than three years ago to focus on her skating.
"I thought it would be for one year, but my coach told me I had a shot to qualify for a World Cup race, if I decided to become American," she said.
"It was clear I was in a very good situation with good coaching and I was having fun. I thought, I cannot really see myself moving back and skating in the Netherlands."
Because of the glut of skating talent in the Netherlands, it was more America's gain than a Dutch loss.
"We don't really have that option," said Kooreman, noting the U.S. must carefully nurture whatever talent comes in.
Schoutens learned to skate as a small child in the Netherlands and moved through the ranks but always knew that getting on any Dutch team would require a cut-throat competition.
In the United States, she has the luxury of longer-term planning, knowing an injury will not necessarily push her off the team.
"I don't have the kind of obstacles the Dutch face," she said. "They may have six valid candidates for only three places. In U.S. long-distance skating, that is less of a problem."
Still, it was no free ride to the Olympics.
She had to finish in the top 12 of a World Cup race to get a shot at the games. She did so in the only 5,000m race of the season in Stavanger with an 11th place. And she won the U.S. qualifying for the event, gaining American, and Dutch, fans along the way.
In a sense, she considers herself a hybrid in speedskating, using both U.S. and Dutch skills to try to be the most complete skater she can be.
"In general, the Americans are stronger in the corners and the Dutch on the straight," she said. "Short track taught them different skills," highlighting the origins of many U.S. skaters where tight bend work is essential.
"I was already above average in the straights and in the corners, I had to learn a lot. That is what the Americans did for me."
After Saturday's 3,000, she can show off those skills again in next Friday's 5,000.
"It is just the beginning for her," Kooreman said.
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