She’s ready to race.
Heather Bergsma is no Olympic rookie and, now, in her third straight Games, the North Carolina native is ready to take home her first medal. Bergsma has the chance to make history in PyeongChang and while she’s not taking a single moment for granted, she’s also got some fairly lofty expectations for herself. As does Team USA.
Here’s everything you need to know about the 28-year-old and her life on and off the ice:
1. Her Parents Got Her Interested in Speed Skating
Bregsma got her start on skates thanks to her parents, experienced athletes in their own right. Pat and Jeff Richardson both raced and did artistic skating on quad roller skates and frequently took Bregsma to the area roller rink in High Point, North Carolina.
It wasn’t until she was nine years old, though, that Bregsma’s focus shifted slightly.
She was at the roller rink when a local coach spotted her and suggested taking inline speed skating classes. It didn’t take long for her to realize she’d found her calling. “I went to my first race and won everything,” Bergsma said in an interview with NBC Olympics, “so I think that made me really excited to stay with the sport.”
Bergsma competed on inline skates for nine years before trading them in for slightly sharper blades after graduating from high school. She described the move as “Bambi on ice,” telling NBC Olympics:
I’d just finished skating in 2007. I finished the world championships on inlines. I came home for two weeks and I made a phone call to [Olympic champion speed skater] Derek Parra and was, like, ‘Hey, I’m really interested in trying ice speed skating. Can I join the group?’ At the time, he had a group called W.H.I.P., which is Wheels to Ice Program. And so within two weeks, I had all my bags packed, and my parents drove me to Salt Lake City.
She made her first appearance on ice in 2007, competing with the U.S. Speedskating World Cup Team and the rest, as they say, is history.
2. This Is Bergsma’s Third Olympic Games
This is hardly Bergsma’s first turn around the Olympic track.
She made her Olympic debut at the 2010 Vancouver games, but struggled to find her footing – placing 6th in 500m, 9th in 1000m and 16th in the 1500m. Things changed in 2013, however, when Bergsma won gold at the 2013 World Sprint Championship and finished first in the 1000m race at three of four World Cup events ahead of the 2014 Sochi games.
Bergsma entered her second Olympic games with sky-high expectations, but, once again, struggled to find herself on the podium. She seventh in both the 1000m and 1500m events, and 8th in the 2x500m.
3. Bergsma’s Career Skyrocketed After the Sochi Olympics in 2014
Although Bergsma hasn’t had her Olympic moment quite yet, the North Carolina native has still made her presence known since leaving Sochi. In fact, since those games, Bergsma and fellow Team USA standout Brittany Bowe have combined to win 19 world championship speedskating medals. One, or both, of the women have been on every medal stand in the 1,000-meter since Sochi and, for good measure, Bergsma holds the world record in the event as well.
Bergsma has quickly become the face of women’s speed skating in the United States with three world cup medals in 2018, and 12 last season, including gold in the 1,000 at the Calgary World Cup in December 2017.
Now, the 28-year-old is hoping to turn that success into gold, quite literally, looking to the United States’ first Olympic women’s speed skating medal since 2002.
4. She & Dutch Speed Skater Jorrit Bergsma Tied the Knot in 2015
Talk about a power couple.
Bergsma and fellow speed skating star, Jorrit, tied the knot in May 2015 at Adaumont Farm in Trinity, North Carolina, just a short drive from her home town in High Point. Jorrit popped the question in April 2013, etching “Will you Marry Me?’ into the sand on a vacation in Myrtle Beach.
The pair, who met on the competition circuit, still spend time in North Carolina, but also train together in the Netherlands.
The pair skate together all year, teammates on a Dutch pro team sponsored by Clafis Engineering in Heerenveen. It’s a huge draw in the Netherlands and a life-changing experience for the two. Bergsma told Greensboro.com:
It’s always packed. Always. Thousands of fans. It’s loud, which makes it fun. At World Cups, sometimes, there’s barely anyone at these huge rinks. It’s so quiet and still, and you can hear your skates. You get used to that, and then you go home and it’s like the Olympics. It’s so loud you can’t even hear your clap-skates. It’s just a different atmosphere. I like the noise.
Now, the two are looking to both capture some Olympic hardware, with Jorrit hoping to defend his 10,000m title, in PyeongChang.
5. Bergsma Hopes to go to Dental School After Her Speed Skating Career Ends
Bergsma is ready to represent the United States in this Olympics, hoping the third time is the charm for gold, but she’s also got an eye on the future. In fact, according to her Team USA profile, Bergsma plans to attend dental school after her career on the track wraps up.
Of course, she’s more than happy to wait a little while before settling into a classroom.
Bergsma is set to compete in four events at PyeongChang and is a considered a medal contender in each one. No American speedskater has won more than three Olympic medals at a single Games since Eric Heiden notched five golds in 1980 and while Bergsma isn’t making any promises, she’s the first to admit her own expectations are high.
“Anything can happen at the Olympic Games,” Bergsma told Team USA. “That’s why it’s so exciting to watch. I have four chances, and I’m going to do my best at all four.”