Hanne Desmet (BEL) streches during the 2020 ISU World Championships in Rotterdam (NED). @ISU (International Skating Union)
Hanne Desmet made history at Beijing 2022 as Belgium’s first Short Track Speed Skating female athlete winning a medal at an Olympic Winter Games. After her bronze in the 1000m, overnight stardom followed.
Hanne Desmet (BEL) poses during the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing (CHN). @GettyImages
“It was a big deal for the country,” she said. “Winter athletes are pretty rare for us and lots of people watched it on TV. It was weird. Overnight, everyone knew me. I suddenly gained 30,000 [Instagram] followers and I started getting recognised.”
Fame hasn’t gone to her head though and the mission over the next few years is very clear – to get to the very top of the discipline. “I want to be on the podium all the time,” she said.
To achieve such an objective, it all starts with a serious training during the summer season. Until the end of June, this has been bike rides and weights. “It’s about training every day and getting a good base,” said Desmet. “I prefer when I don’t have to ride but I do like the mountains.”
“I’ve just been in Salt Lake City (USA) biking and we’re going to Bormio (ITA) soon. I don’t mind it if there is a col to climb to. But in Heerenveen (NED) - where she trains in a partnership with the Netherlands team - I don’t like the long, flat bike rides that go on for hours.”
On gym days, twice a week, she focuses on squats and leans. But from July, she is delighted to be back in the rink. “We will be on the ice twice a day in Heerenveen.” she said. “That’s when it really starts. For a Short Tracker, ice is really the most important thing.”
“I enjoy the ice most of all. I love skating. Every session I have fun and I love trying to learn and improve small things to make a big difference. That’s an awesome feeling.”
Hanne Desmet (BEL) rests with the Dutch Team during a training session in Heerenveen (NED). @GettyImages
Desmet puts her progress down to a couple of key factors. “Endurance is my best benefit,” she said. “Physically I am just really fit. I also spend more time than anyone I know doing exercises around the prevention of injury. I spend a few hours a week working on small muscles in my body.”
Hanne Desmet (BEL) trains with the Dutch Team in Heerenveen (NED) in 2020. @GettyImages
She also has a great set-up. Every day she is training with multiple World and Olympic Champion Suzanne Schulting (NED) along with the other members of the Olympic gold-medal-winning Netherlands Relay Team, coached by the renowned Jeroen Otter. “The Dutch have been really important for me,” she said. “We all make each other stronger and work together. It is the ideal situation.”
Hanne Desmet (BEL) and Suzanne Shulting (NED) interact during the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing (CHN). @GettyImages
The areas she can improve? Technique. She is always trying to make tweaks that will allow her to go faster – with two key allies: her partner, the USA Speed Skater Joey Mantia, and her younger brother Stijn, also a Short Track Speed Skater.
“Joey and Stijn are both very technically-minded and give me lots of advice. I’m trying to be more efficient and not think about the volume of work I do,” she said.
“Joey really knows physiology, so even though our sports are different, the basics are the same and it’s really useful. I help him with some of the work I do for injury prevention.”
“And I’m with my brother all the time at training, so we like to discuss movements, watch videos, look at how things feel on the ice. We go to the gym together, which isn’t always fun on your own, and support each other at competition, which helps a lot.”
With her determination and the great network that surrounds her, there could be plenty more from Hanne Desmet for Short Track Speed Skating fans to cheer in the future. “The Olympics were amazing,” said Desmet. “Little Belgium getting onto the biggest podium of them all was pretty surreal. I’d love to do it again.”