British speed skating couple Cornelius Kersten and Ellia Smeding: partners in all things

Romantic partners, business owners and now Olympic teammates set to compete for Team GB, Cornelius Kersten and Ellia Smeding have brewed their way to Beijing 2022.

By Jo Gunston
Picture by Getty Images

“Not gonna lie, pretty lucky to be living this life with you,” posted British speed skater Ellia Smeding of her boyfriend, business partner and soon-to-be Olympic teammate Cornelius Kersten. The pair were announced as part of the Team GB squad headed to the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 in January.

Each will compete in their respective women's and men's events in the 1000m and 1500m, breaking a generation's worth of non appearances by Brits in the discipline. The last person to compete for GB was Craig McNicoll in 1992.

To help fund their Olympic ambition, the Netherlands-based couple set up their own coffee business, the name of the company clear in its ambition – Brew 22.

Roasting, packaging and shipping coffee beans is the order of the day, with training mostly taking place at night. The two-year-old company has been successful enough that it has generated funds to allow Kersten and Smeding to continue competing.

In a video for world governing body, the International Skating Union (ISU), Kersten revealed that as passionate as he is about the company he would not recommend running a business and trying to compete at such a high level to anybody else.

“Coffee is my passion and Brew is our little baby so it’s very easy to put a lot of time and effort into it but it does sometimes take time and energy when you would rather have a nap in the afternoon.”

“We had to find a way to make money,” says Smeding, “and hopefully (the business) is something we can continue to grow after our skating careers.”

Whereas for some running a company together, training together and living together might be too much, Smeding finds it actually quite helpful to be in a relationship with another athlete, “because being an athlete is quite a weird way to live", she says. "You have to live really selfishly and if you live with someone who completely understands that, it’s fun to experience it together.”

"We can also coach each other,” laughs Kersten.

Stop and smell the coffee

The duo have known each other since they were teenagers, first meeting at the British championships where both had dominated their events. Smeding’s mother wanted to take a photo of the two, laden with their trophies, and by the time the pair spent four weeks together at the Junior World Cup in Collalbo and the 2017 Winter Universiade in Kazakhstan, they were smitten.

Smeding was born in the UK but aged eight, temporarily moved to the Netherlands with her family, birthplace of her mother. They ended up staying.

Kersten, meanwhile, was born in the Netherlands, a hotbed of speed skating talent in a nation passionate with the sport, but decided to compete for GB courtesy of his mother’s nationality.

Kersten and Smeding now live together in Heerenveen a stone’s throw from the Thialf ice arena and run their business from a warehouse in the town.

During the day, the pair are busy growing the business – roasting, packaging and shipping coffee beans – by night, they are improving their speed skating form.

“If you want to be successful, you’ve got to put in the hours, both in the business and in speed skating,” said Smeding. “At the moment the business is there to help us get better in skating. That’s priority number one, and then hopefully after that, it’s something to continue to grow after our skating career too.”

Kersten is also keen to bring the spotlight back round to the sport after interest waned following a fallow period after the last successful speed skating Brit, John Cronshey, who won silver at the World Speed Championship in Davos, Switzerland in 1951.

“Figure skating and short track are more popular in Britain and the long track legacy has faded away,” says Kersten before enthusing about why he loves the sport: “For me it’s the speed of it. When you throw yourself into a corner at 40mph you’re in control but you’re also slightly out of control, too. One wrong move and you’re out, you’re flying into the cushions. But if you hit it right, you absolutely blast through … and that’s amazing.”

Something that could be said of the the rollercoaster life of business owners too, but at least this busy twosome are in it together.

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