Dutch ice queen eyes Olympic glory after latest success
New European speed skating champion Jutta Leerdam is targeting gold for the Netherlands at the Beijing Winter Games in February – and wants her sporting brilliance to eclipse her social media stardom.
The 23-year-old was one of the leading stars of Dutch dominance at the European Championships in the city of Heerenveen last week, with no fewer than 11 gold medals from 14 races going to home heroes.
In the women's 1,000m, Leerdam headed a Dutch one-two formed with Femke Kok and claimed top honors by more than a second.
Sharing a clip of her exploits to Twitter, Leerdam wrote that she would love to have celebrated with all 11,000 of her followers and thanked them for their online support.
Would have loved to celebrate yesterday’s win with all of you! 🤍 Thank you for your online support! 🤍 pic.twitter.com/hCrkErOltF— Jutta Leerdam (@JuttaLeerdam_) January 10, 2022
Yet it is on Instagram where the eye-catching Leerdam is far more fawned over, boasting a loyal army of 2.1 million followers who enjoy photos of her exploits and other interests such as cooking recipes, cycling and weight lifting.
Despite this, though, the blonde star has stressed that the "last thing I want is being known as the girl from Instagram or the girl that looks a certain way."
"I want to be known as the girl who is a world-class skater, and is a winner and doing a good job on Instagram," she claimed.
"The other way round is something I don't really want.
"Speed skating is my number one and Instagram number two.
"It sounds super-cliched but I think brains bring you more in life than looks, and you can have better conversations with people than when you're pretty and dumb. And beauty fades anyway," she noted.
Though now embracing them, the 5ft 11 beauty wasn't always comfortable with her looks.
"I used to be insecure about my height, now I accept it," she admitted.
"I'm tall – that's me. I love my long legs now; I accepted it and I'm happy with who I am. I like my long blonde hair.
"If I had to choose my most beautiful body part, I would say my eyes or my stomach. It doesn't matter how much weight I gain, you never see it on my stomach," Leerdam said.
This might be explained by how long the girl from a small town near The Hague in southern Holland has been in sport, as she played hockey for eight years before emerging on the speed skating scene as a junior in the 2016-2017 season.
At the World Junior Speed Skating Championships in Helsinki during that maiden term, she scooped gold in the 1,500m, overall and team pursuit disciplines, while also picking up two bronzes in the 500m and 3000m.
She was less successful individually at the same event held in Salt Lake City the following year, but still bagged gold medals in the team pursuit and team sprint.
In 2018-2019, Leerdam finally became a Dutch champion and made her debut in the senior European and World Championships when turning professional and becoming a part of Team IKO.
And after scooping gold in the 1,000m at the European Championships, she is now ready to head to the Chinese capital and try and clinch the top prize at the Winter Olympics, which kick off on February 4.
Training with men in order to gain a more competitive advantage, Leerdam hopes to carry on the torch lit by fellow Dutchwoman ace Jorien Ter, who won the 1,000m crown in Pyeonchang in 2018.
"Of course, I’m going for gold," she confirmed late last year.
"I’m well on my way. It’s going very well, and the upward trend is there. I can only look forward to the big Games."
Clearly ready for the attention that being under a bigger spotlight brings, Leerdam claimed to the same site that she skates better when the stakes are high.
"I always put a lot of pressure on myself, because I know that I perform very well through pressure. I’m used to it," she said in the same interview.
"For me, pressure or tension is not negative."
Yet new admirers may be heartbroken to learn that the flying Dutchwoman is already in a relationship with fellow speed skater and compatriot Koen Verweij, who she set up Team Worldstream with.
Similarly, her partner is hoping for an improvement on his silver showing in the 1,500m in Sochi in 2014.
"If we both win Olympic gold in Beijing...That would of course be a dream scenario," Leerdam beamed, as reported by the organizers' official site.
Pursuing a diploma as a weight consultant and also said to be studying Commercial Economics in Groningen, Leerdam has promoted the importance of staying book-smart and using her brain alongside sport.
"After my sporting career, I want to get my diploma. I don't want my world to rely on my sport – and besides that, it's a nice distraction," she revealed, hinting at the path she may take after retiring from a profession where athletes frequently bow out young.