Former Olympic ice skater Marrit Leenstra: ‘These games are going to be very different’

Former Olympic ice skater Marrit Leenstra: ‘These games are going to be very different’

Next week it will finally start: the Olympic Winter Games of 2022! Two weeks full of winter sports in Beijing, we spoke about it with former long track speed skater and UvA alumnus Marrit Leenstra. ‘These games are going to be very different from the games in 2018’, she shares.

Currently, she is living in the Italian alps with her husband and daughter who was born last year. ‘I’m doing well! I can take walks in the mountains and there’s an ice-skating rink in the village’, she tells us. Quite different from a few years ago, when she won her third Olympic medal. ‘After winning gold, silver and an individual bronze, I felt like I had achieved the highest attainable. If you don’t feel like you can improve, it is best to go and do something else.’ That something else was a master Geo Information Science. After receiving her bachelor’s degree at the UvA, Leenstra decided it was time to follow a programme she ‘could actually visit the lectures from.’ Currently, she is working as a Geographic Information System (GIS) specialist and software developer in Italy.

Leenstra met her husband Matteo Anesi through ice skating. He even ended up being her assistant coach. ‘It was very special being able to do that together for two years’, she shares. In such an ice skating household, she must still put on the skates from time to time, right? ‘I haven’t ice skated a lot here, to be honest. I took up athletics and fencing, which I really enjoyed. My husband became the coach of the national speed skating team of Italy. I wouldn’t be surprised if my daughter took up ice skating, after all both her parents won a gold medal in it’, the former athlete shares with her daughter babbling in the background.

Leenstra experiences their preparation of the Italian team from up close. ‘These games are going to be very different from the games in 2018. Because of covid, they’re not as free. Normally, if you forgot your toothbrush, you could just buy a new one in the supermarket. This year they won’t be able to. They’re stuck on the rink or in their apartment. Everyone’s also very scared to catch covid. This is the most important moment of the year for them. They don’t dare to take the risk of seeing their sibling who is still in school. Even I was scared to get ill in previous years. In 2014 and 2018 I’d already wear a mouth mask in aeroplanes and touch door handles with my sleeves.’

The Olympics being in China has also caused quite some commotion in the Netherlands. When asked if athletes are focused on that at all, she laughs: ‘No. You’re concentrated on your game, not on peripheral matters. Just like a political situation, you’re just not thinking about that’, Leenstra shares. Nevertheless, Dutch Olympic athletes have been given the advice not to bring their own phones or laptops. ‘The Italians can bring their own phones. From what I’ve heard, they’re not worried about that. Most of them say they don’t have anything to hide anyways. I also wouldn’t have been very worried about it.’ We finish with the important part: who are the ones to watch during the Olympics? ‘In the Italian team, Francesca Lollobrigida and Davide Ghiotto are my favourites’, Leenstra shares in an impeccable Italian accent. ‘But I am Dutch after all. Ireen Wüst never disappoints. However, the youngsters are also good to follow: Jutta Leerdam and Femke Kok. They’ve been doing very well this year.’ Let’s see how these ice skaters will do in February!