Bart Swings is a 26-year-old World Champion inline speed skater and Olympic ice speed skater from Herent, Belgium. He just won the prestigious Berlin Marathon for the fifth straight year in a row. Bart not only represented Belgium in the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, but also will be representing his country again in February at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Ricardo Lino sat down with Bart at the Powerslide booth before the Berlin Marathon to get an intimate look into his life, his skating and his future.
What is your current setup?
My current setup is the Powerslide Icon Boot, 125mm XXX Frame, Matter G13 125mm Wheels and Wicked Swiss Bearings.
Is it a trinity setup?
At this moment I am not racing with the trinity frames. At the beginning of the season I was racing with the trinity frames and did really well on them, winning the Dijon Marathon and winning several other races. However the World Games were this year and they only happen once every four years. I had been on the same boots and frames for the past four years and changed back to my older boot for the race. The changed purely had to do with the mental aspect of skating a setup I was so comfortable on. I didn’t want to risk the race of potentially having to adjust to a new skate setup. Next season I will be back on the trinity frames again. Every time I skate on them I am feeling more and more comfortable. I really like the trinity because it gives me so much stability and gives me a lot more power transfer.
You skating the 3x125mm tri-skate setup is a major reason why so many speed skaters are now skating and competing in tri-skates. Is there a noticeable difference between a four wheel frame vs. a 125mm tri-skate setup?
Yes, there is a major difference in the two. I actually began skating the 3x125 two years ago here in Berlin. The previous year I had set my first record here and when I switched to the 125mm setup I was 2 minutes faster completing the marathon in 56 minutes and 49 seconds. It was the fasted marathon I’d ever skated. I can feel how much more speed I have and am able to have more control over my skates. The three wheel setup allows you to pivot on your middle wheel, which I really like. I remember back in 2013, when Scott was at the Belgium World Championships and first showed me the 3x125 frames. At first I was actually a little bit skeptical about them and was like meh, I don’t know if this is going to be the next big thing. But when I skated on them the first time they instantly felt so much better. They’ve also made a big difference for me at the beginning of the season when I come back from ice skating. I used to always have trouble doing inline again, but now I get on my 3x125 setup and I’m back to full speed right away.
What are your training habits? How many hours do you train per day and how many days per week?
I skate two times a day, usually it’s six day a week. I have one rest day. My coach is not the biggest fan about resting so my rest days are an active rest. This means I have to still get in an hour on the bike or something like that. I usually train about five hours a day and I break it down into two 2-3 hour training sessions. I have a very big variety in my training, I do ice skating, inline skating, go biking a lot, do weight training and plyometrics. People ask me if I would be a good cyclist, maybe I have the body for it, but I’m not the guy who would enjoy sitting on a bike everyday for five hours.
Do you train more inside or outside?
Outside, I’ve been training only outside since I started ice-skating. In the past I also did indoor skating during the winter, especially since the weather is not very good in Belgium. Now I focus fully training outdoors. I do like indoor, especially in the United States. I’ve skated in the race in Las Vegas, been a couple of times to Florida and San Jose for training and always enjoyed it. Sadly we don’t have the same indoor rinks as in the United States.
What kind of diet do you stick to?
I’m happy that I don’t really have to stick to a strict diet. For me it is pretty important to have the right food before and after a race and before and after training, so that I can recover as fast as possible. During the season I regularly get my body scanned to see how much fat I have and check my muscles density. The doctor usually gives me the advice to eat more, so I’m pretty happy about that.
What are the favorite places skating has taken you?
Here in Berlin, where we are now. This Marathon is a really special one for me. Just seeing how many people are so passionate about skating, around 6000 people racing this event, it’s enormous and a lot of fun. I also love Columbia; it is one of the nicest places to go to as an inline skater. The people are also really passionate about skating there, every race is just one big party for them. Nowhere in the world do you have the same atmosphere as in Columbia.
Besides the passion of the 6000 people here what else makes this race special?
The organization, it is on of the best-organized races there is. Because this is also a major marathon for runners, we were able to piggyback on the success of the Berlin Marathon. Having bigger sports like running create events like this that we can be part of helps make our sport bigger. The course is very special to me, it is really fast, which you can see from my record time. You also get to skate through the city of Berlin, which is extremely nice. Not a lot of people are able to skate around a capital city like Berlin and race on the streets, where on every other day of the year they are full of cars! I really enjoy that and wish there were more races like this.
How do you deal with lower back pain on long skates?
I used to suffer lower back pain when skating, but since I started ice-skating six years ago I haven’t had any more issues with it. Part of the reason is, at the same time, I also started doing core stability workouts for my back and abs. This allowed my deep muscles to be more comfortable in a bent over position. Doing these workouts really helped me a lot in getting rid of this pain.
How do you align your frame?
This changes for me depending on the kind of race I’m doing. Especially when it comes to track racing, it is important for me to be comfortable in the corners. So for the track I align my frame from my Achilles on the back and either to the big or small toe on the front. For example, when turning corners on my left foot, the back wheel is a little more inside so I have a better lean into the corner. But when skating in a marathon like here in Berlin, where I have to do full sprints on straightaways, I move the frame more into the inside position on my boot.
So it goes inner edge when you do long distance?
If I am in a race with a lot of straightaways, I align the frame to where I can double push and get it easy underneath me. It also allows me to have a stronger arch support. If there are a lot of corners I like to put the frame at a little angle so I have longer pressure on my left foot when in the corners.
What made you want to try your hand at competitive speed skating one ice?
Sadly, inline skating is not an Olympic sport. I wish it was! It is one of my dreams that it becomes an Olympic sport before I’m 40. If it does I may still be able to qualify and compete in it. I have always had the dream of competing in the Olympics, so that is why I began ice speed skating. Four years ago I managed to get myself to the Olympics in Sochi and placed 5th in the 10,000-m race and 4th in the 5,000-m race, only one second behind 3rd place. In February I hope to place in the top 3 at the 2018 Olympics.
How difficult was the transition from inline skates to ice skates?
It is a completely different sport. Myself, Ewen Fernandez and Peter Michael are all inline speed skating World Champions that crossed over to speed skating on ice and weren’t even ranked in the top 100 in the world. So in the beginning I had to really focus on my progression. With ice skating I always set myself intermediate goals, with my first goal being to qualify for the European Championships. Once I achieved that goal, I set my sights on the World Cups and then to Division A. By creating smaller goals, I was able to reach them faster then I expected. Ice skating for me is hard work. I find inline skating so much easier, I don’t have to even think about it. It’s like I was born with inline skates on my feet. But in ice skating, I really have to focus and think about it, but when I’m doing well, I really do enjoy it.
What is your greatest personal achievement? What is your fondest memory in skating?
The first time I became World Champion! I never expected that to happen so quickly. It was my very first time racing as a senior and it just happened that race was also the World Championships. It was one of the hardest races I’ve competed in, but came out on top with the Gold Medal. This is a really nice memory for me.
How long do you expect to skate, professionally and recreationally?
Professionally, I sometimes think about this. Coming up in February I’ll be competing in the Olympics and after that it will be another four years until the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China. The whole time I will continue inline skating together with ice skating. Inline skating not only makes me stronger when it comes to skating on the ice but I also enjoy it more.
Recreationally, can you imagine yourself stop skating anytime?
No, I think I will always inline skate. A few years ago Powerslide sent me a pair of the Doops and I really enjoy skating them around my city. I do enjoy the recreational side of skating.
Do you skate for recreation or transportation much?
I do not use them for transportation; I’m already spending so much time training on my skates. If I’m at a race or a championship it’s easier to go straight from the hotel, if it’s close enough, to the race on my skates.
What skaters inspired you when you first started?
That is a difficult question, growing up I never really had a hero or someone I looked up to. But I did always respect the career of Chad Hedrick. Like myself, he also went on to speed skating on ice. You could see him skating on television and he became one of the biggest and most famous skaters in our sport.
Who are you favorite skaters today?
I really like to watch Simon Albrecht. It is incredible how fast he is, how easy it is for him to make speed. Also he is a really nice guy.
What is it about skating that keeps you hooked on it?
For me skating is really relaxing. I can see myself doing it well into my later years. When I get older I don’t see myself sitting on a bicycle for 2-3 hours and I hate running, my body is not built to run. Skating is the perfect sport, you burn a lot more calories then on a bike and don’t have the same impact as in running. Health wise it’s one of the best sports there is. And if you are good at it you don’t crash too often. It’s so easy to go fast, and you can just roll around and take in your surroundings.
What are your future goals?
My current goal is to skate as good as possible in Korea for the Olympics. I want to win an Olympic Medal and I know that if I put on my best race possible that I can achieve that goal.
How long have you been skating for Powerslide? How did you first get put on the team?
I’ve been skating for Powerslide since 2012. Before that I was always skating on smaller teams with my brother and the guys I grew up skating with. Back then I was always racing against Powerslide skaters, but at the same time I always liked Powerslide. Powerslide were the big guys in the sport and worked very hard and very professionally. I was at the point in my life where I had to choose between sports or my studies. I chose to skate professionally and Powerslide was the brand that gave me the opportunity to keep pursuing my passion. Competitive speed skating is a pretty tough world and can be lonely at times, but with Powerslide you are part of one big family. That is what I love the most about this team, you are always with a group of people you enjoy being around. They aren’t just your teammates, but also your friends. And I love Scott and of course Matthias, for being the boss of a brand like this, Matthias a pretty fun guy!
What do your sponsors ask of you?
I try to represent all of my sponsors as well as possible. I race for Powerslide in all the races I compete in and want to put Powerslide out there as much as possible as well as being an Ambassador for skating. That is what Powerslide does well, they are not only a company, but are also one of the biggest Ambassadors of speed skating and inline skating in general. They constantly show how much they love their sport. Every person involved with Powerslide shows their love for skating. That’s also their slogan, “We Love To Skate.” It fits perfectly to Powerslide, their whole team and to myself.
What would you recommend for the beginner (young) skaters who are just getting into racing?
Find a boot that you are comfortable on. Having a comfortable boot is one of the most important things. You don’t want to spend most of your time worrying about how much your feet hurt while skating or having trouble standing in the boots. Once you find the right boot, then you just need to go out there and enjoy yourself. When you are out there skating, don’t just focus on going fast and trying to make speed. You also need to have good technique and work on being in the proper positions. Once you master these things the speed comes easy.
Interview by Ricardo Lino & Jan Eric Welch
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