Nils won his second gold of the Games in the men’s 10,000m, having overhauled his training regime following disappointment in PyeongChang 2018.
Ayumu won men’s snowboard halfpipe gold six months after competing in skateboarding at Tokyo 2020.
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After finishing a disappointing 14th in his only event at PyeongChang 2018, Nils van der Poel took a break from speed skating, enrolling instead in the Swedish armed forces. Now, following a radical overhaul of his approach to training, which has involved running ultramarathons and biking across Sweden, he is a double Olympic champion.
Just five days on from his 5,000m triumph, which was Sweden’s first gold medal in speed skating for 34 years, Nils obliterated the 10,000m world record by nine seconds to stand atop of the podium for the second time at Beijing 2022. He credits his success to the changes he made to his training programme after what ended up being a one-year break from competition.
I made it adventurous, because I knew there was a time when I would lock myself up, enduring it. I had to build up a mountain of motivation.
NILS VAN DER POEL
Finding inspiration from other sources
“This was the main goal when I started three years ago. It turned out a lot better than I could have ever imagined,” said Nils, who is happy to challenge perceptions of what an athlete’s life should look like.
“Whatever you can get inspired by, you need to find,” he says. “What do you have to bribe yourself with, to train more than that? If you can find that, perhaps you can win the Olympics.
“I did 20 ultras, 1,000 skydives, I served in the army for a year, I do a lot of parties. I went snowboarding a lot. I went ski mountaineering. I biked the whole of Sweden. I made it adventurous, because I knew there was a time when I would lock myself up, enduring it. I had to build up a mountain of motivation.
“I love the sport, more than most things, but if you want to keep loving it, you have to work for it. It is like a relationship. It doesn’t just come to you.”
Experiencing something that is different from snowboarding helps me mentally and how I manage my emotions.
From skateboard to snowboard
Earlier in the day at Genting Snow Park, another maverick talent struck gold.
Japan’s Hirano Ayumu, silver medallist in the halfpipe at the last two Winter Games, finally delivered his country’s first Olympic gold medal in snowboarding with a stunning final run that included a 1440 triple cork. Australia’s Scotty James took silver and Switzerland’s Jan Scherrer bronze, with US legend Shaun White finishing fourth in the final act of his storied Olympic career, as he passed over the baton to the next generation.
Incredibly, this was Ayumu’s second Games in just over six months, having competed in the first-ever Olympic skateboarding competition at Tokyo 2020. And although he didn’t make the final of that event, Ayumu believes the challenge on home turf helped him deliver in Beijing.
“Experiencing something that is different from snowboarding helps me mentally and how I manage my emotions,” he said afterwards.
“Skateboarding helped me substantially in that sense. This event was a huge challenge for me, but that experience itself gave me a lot of confidence, looking back over the last four years. Skateboarding helped make me stronger.”
Finishing in ninth place in the halfpipe was Ayumu’s younger brother Hirano Kaishu, in a day that continued the family themes that appeared on day six.
At the Cross-Country Centre, Iivo Niskanen won Finland’s first gold of Beijing 2022 with a monster performance in the men’s 15km classic, a day after his sister Kerttu won silver in the women’s 10km classic.