Lausanne, Switzerland

July 30th is the International Day of Friendship – and the world of Short Track Speed Skating is home to one of the friendliest groups of athletes in sport.

Even though all our competitors always want to beat each other on the ice, on the sidelines there is a great sense of unity and fellowship.

The International Day of Friendship was introduced by the UN in 2011, with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities. 

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The sad passing of Dutch Short Track Speed Skater Lara van Ruijven recently illustrated how close the Short Track Speed Skating community is, with athletes from around the world uniting to pay tribute to their great mate, who always had a smile for everyone.

Friendship in Short Track Speed Skating has no borders. As skaters like Anja Chong of Malaysia, Nicolas Laborde of Colombia and Akash Aradhya of India have told us, being in a small team means having to expand your horizons.

“I’ve been really lucky that all the big teams are friendly and helpful,” says Chong. “It’s been great fun getting to know them. They took me under their wing. They’ve given me all kinds of advice, like spotting burr on my blades and teaching me how to sharpen.”

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Anja Chong (MAS) at the Southeast Asian Games 2019©Getty Images

“It’s hard moving to a new country,” adds Laborde, who trains in Canada. “But in a way that’s good because you make lots of friends. In a one-man team you’re forced to make friends. I know the Bulgarians, and Akash is a good friend.” Akash adds: “People give you warmth and if something goes wrong you can get some help. So it’s a good experience.”

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Nicolas Laborde (COL) at the ISU Four Continents Short Track Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)

The Netherlands and Belgium – traditional sporting rivals – meanwhile, have become best buddies since the Belgian skaters began to train with their Dutch counterparts. “You are training with the best of the best, and it is fun too, because we have become good friends,” says Hanne Desmet of Belgium, who has enjoyed the move.

Within teams, too, heroines, heroes and mentors become friends for life. Canada’s Samuel Girard has been getting dubbed ‘the next Charles Hamelin’ for a few years – but the senior man didn’t mind, and helped Girard on his route to winning an Olympic gold at PyeongChang 2018. “Sam is a really good friend. I’ve been rooming with him the last two seasons and I’m not there to tell him do this or do that – I’m just there to give him examples,” says Hamelin.

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Choi Min Jeong and Kim Ji Yoo (KOR) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)

Kim Ji Yoo of the Republic of Korea, meanwhile, is in awe of the greatness of three-time overall World Champion Choi Min Jeong – but most grateful to her for her friendship. “I’m blessed to train with such a great athlete like Choi,” she says. “I love training with her and she does encourage me a lot.”

There are far too many examples to list, with lifelong friendships abundant in every team. Recent developments, however, are breaking down barriers further. The addition of the Mixed Gender Relay has brought already-close teams even closer together. “We always train with the girls so I think it’s perfect for us,” says Relay specialist Daan Breeuwsma, of the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games, a Mixed NOC Relay featured athletes from different countries combining to race as one team – and becoming social media and real-life friends in the process. Put it all together and you’ve got a sport that is becoming more welcoming, inclusive and friendly every season.