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Jordan Stolz (USA)  World Cup Speed Skating  Stavanger(NOR) GettyImages 1244746298

Felix Rijhnen (GER) and Gabriel Odor (AUT) celebrate during the ISU World Cup in Stavanger (NOR) @ISU

“I think I can be an example now, that it's possible to combine both ice skating and inline skating,” says Felix Rijhnen.

A twofold world champion on inline skates, the 32-year-old German seized his first World Cup win on the ice in the Mass Start at the first ISU World Cup Speed Skating event of the 2022/23 season in Stavanger (NOR). Rijhnen is hungry for more success on the ice, especially in the 5000m, his favorite distance.

Felix Rijhnen (GER), Gabriel Odor (AUT), Bart Hoolwerf (NED) ISU World Cup Stavanger (NOR) ISU 1244747223

Felix Rijhnen (GER), Gabriel Odor (AUT) and Bart Hoolwerf (NED) pose during the ISU World Cup in Stavanger (NOR) @ISU

Inline versus ice

Rijhnen’s World Cup win in Stavanger came only one year after he first entered the international Speed Skating circuit. As an inline champion, he did not have the opportunity to combine his passion for the wheels on tarmac with a Speed Skating career on the ice before.

“The [German] federation didn't really accept that it was possible to do both sports. It needed guys like Bart Swings (BEL), Michel Mulder (NED), Joey Mantia and Chad Hedrick (USA), to show that it's possible to combine both successfully.”

Before becoming an inline champion Rijhnen grew up skating on the ice too.

“I come from Darmstadt, about 30 kilometers from Frankfurt. So as a kid I skated on the outdoor rink in Frankfurt a little bit. It wasn't easy, always early on the weekends, Saturday morning seven o'clock, Sunday morning seven o'clock. To combine that with school, driving and another sport, was too much at that age for me. But I at least I got a basic understanding of the sport and maybe a little bit of technique back then.”

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Rijhnen got successful on the tarmac, winning the European Marathon title in 2014, the men’s points race World Title in 2017 and the men’s marathon at the 2018 World Championships. Although he incidentally stepped on the ice for fun, he did not really consider combining inline-skating and ice-skating at top level.

“The people who were in charge of the federation back in the days, were not not interested in inline and they even closed the door in front of me. It was either I’d go ice skating and forget about inline or nothing.

“That was never an option for me, because I love inline skating. It's also the sport which made me strong, which made me the athlete I am now. I think I need both.”

A change of leadership in the German Federation brought new opportunities in 2021.

“I got lucky, Matthias Grosse, the new head, gave me a call. He said hey, why don't you come back? We'll give you a chance. I took that chance, made it to the Olympics, and now I got the DESG a World Cup victory.”

Stavanger win

Although the World Cup victory did not come easy, Rijhnen adapted quickly to the ice and already took a bronze medal in the Mass Start last season at the World Cup in Calgary (CAN).

“There I was on the podium with Bart Hoolwerf (NED) too,” he laughs.

Bart Swings (BEL) Albertus Hoolwerf (NED), Felix Rijhnen(GER) 2021 ISU World Cup Calgary (CAN) GettyImages 1237173869

Bart Swings (BEL) Albertus Hoolwerf (NED) and Felix Rijhnen(GER) pose during the 2021 ISU World Cup Calgary (CAN) @ISU

Whereas the Dutchman won last season in Calgary, it was Rijhnen on top in Stavanger. The German surprised the pack with an early attack together with Gabriel Odor (AUT).

“I didn't really have a plan,” he says looking back on the race. “I'm not the fastest guy. I can't really be up there in the sprint yet. I'm not comfortable enough to do those superfast lap times, so in the semis I already had to attack and it worked out well. Then in the final, I went all or nothing, because I had nothing to lose.”

Working together with Odor, Rijhnen managed to stay up front and on the final straight, the German pipped the Austrian to the line, with Hoolwerf winning the consolation sprint for bronze.

Felix Rijhnen (GER) ISU World Cup Speed Skating  Heerenveen (NED) ISU 1244748100

Felix Rijhnen (GER) and Gabriel Odor (AUT) celebrate during the ISU World Cup in Stavanger (NOR) @ISU

To know that he can win races, gives Rijhnen confidence, but he also knows that being in the picture doesn’t make life easier in the Mass Start:

“The pack will not let me go that easy the next time. This [an early escape] works maybe once a year.”

That’s why Rijhnen doesn’t want to put all his eggs in one basket. His favorite distance is actually not the Mass Start, but the 5000m.

“That’s the distance I enjoy most. It's also where I would say I made the biggest progress last year already. I went into the season with a personal best of 6:44, and I came out with 6:12. It’s a good motivation to be in the A group now.”

Coach Contin

Former inline and ice-skater Alexis Contin (FRA) has been a big help in the transition from inline to ice. Rijhnen explains:

“Last year, it was not too hard for me to pick it up quickly and make fast progress. Obviously my coach Alexis Contin, did exactly the same in his own career. He was also a multi World Champion on inline skates, who switched to ice.

Felix Rijhnen (GER), Gabriel Odor (AUT), Bart Hoolwerf (NED) ISU World Cup Stavanger (NOR) ISU 1244747223

Alexis Contin (FRA) competes during the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Gangneung (KOR)

“He [Contin] has a lot of knowledge, which he passed on to me. We could avoid a lot of mistakes. If you think as an inline skater, and train the same way on ice as you do on inline, it doesn't work. It's a completely different sport.

“On the ice, the speeds are higher. You wear out your muscles a lot more, so you can't do the same amount of laps and you can't do the same amount of repetitions and intervals. You have to be very careful to do enough, but not too much. He [Contin] guided me really well, and I hope it keeps on working like this for this season.”