Since opening its doors in 2011, the Kia Speed Skating Academy has been instrumental in creating momentum for the worldwide growth of speed skating. Sponsored by Kia and supported by the International Skating Union since conception, the program focuses on nurturing promising skaters into world-class athletes. The academy, located in Inzell, Germany – the Mecca of speed skating – is now a place of solace and growth for budding Olympians from all over the world.
Kia Speed Skating Academy (Left), Mr. Marnix Wieberdink (Right)
The former Dutch speed skater and founder of the program, Mr. Marnix Wieberdink, has overseen the program as general manager since day one. “Young people get attracted to speed skating mostly because of the speed,” Mr. Wieberdink tells us. “As a former speed skater myself, I know the feeling of almost flying through a corner. It is very exciting.”
It seems that skaters aren’t the only ones gathering traction in Inzell; since the kick-off of the program, the academy has also quickly snowballed into a booming success. With yet another fruitful winter season coming to a close, the Kia BUZZ team was able to chat with Mr. Wieberdink to learn more about the development and future direction of the speed skating academy. Read on the find out more!
Q: What prompted you to start a speed skating academy in Inzell and how did you come to form a partnership with Kia Motors?
MW: Since the beginning of 2004, we established SportNavigator.NL and really, from the very first minute, Kia Motors has been our loyal partner… In the beginning, when we started generating brand-exposure with the help of a few international speed skaters, the main goal was to create brand awareness among the fans following speed skating in the winter sport countries… But, we also recognized there was much more that we could do than just help them with individual sponsorships. We developed a plan where we could offer more specific help for athletes like providing them with “a home for skaters who are not home” and guide them in terms of technical skills and equipment assistance.
Q: Please tell us about what the Academy has been working on this winter season.
MW: Since this season is a so-called Pre-Olympic season, we decided to fine-tune the concept to some more general help and support, specifically with regards to the Kia Speed Skating Academy. All the countries preparing for the Olympics [are] running their own programs and drafted their own optimal plans leading up to the Olympics. We facilitate them to execute these plans in the most perfect way. Knowing this sport for several decades we also recognized another chance by helping athletes and National Skating Federations, so we opened a second building in 2013 and transformed that into the Kia Top Sport Hotel.
Kia Top Sport Hotel
Q: As managing director, what are your primary goals for the Academy?
MW: The primary goal is to provide for the specific needs international athletes have, like a perfect place to live, sleep and recover, as well as optimal food 3 or 4 times per day in an area with the best training conditions to perform at the highest level on a daily basis. That is why we have chosen the small village of Inzell in the South of Germany. This because they have one of the best ice rinks in the world and it’s situated at a perfect altitude of 650 meters above sea-level which makes the rink faster than others in Europe and better for the body to recover.
The restaurant at the Kia Speed Skating Academy
Q: What are some of the programs that the Academy runs? How do you foster the success of your skaters?
MW: We try to be modest with the things we do but taking care of the skaters, the way we would they were our own children, is the leading approach in everything we do on a daily basis. I always like to say that we work “30 hours a day, 9 days a week” for them in order to create an environment which enables them to perform and chase their Olympic dreams. If we, thanks to our partnership with Kia, can contribute to that, we are happy.
Kia vehicles used to transport athletes and VIPs at major skating events
Q: What are your plans for the Academy until the start of the new season?
MW: As we are heading towards an Olympic season, it is very important to make our services better and better. It’s like a never ending “circle of improvement”. We have been fine tuning all the time and now it is important to give athletes and their coaches the security about the level of service we offer. In an Olympic season, there is no room for errors or mistakes – everything needs to be perfect. Any form of stress needs to be taken away from the athletes and that is what we will try to achieve. The focus of the athletes is 100% on the Olympics and our focus is 100% on providing the best circumstances for them.
Q: Since 2011, what has been the most memorable part of working with the Academy?
MW: The last 6-years plus have been filled with many memorable moments. We have been supporting more than 60 athletes from 30 countries and are always excited when they achieve good results. We have seen many medals, even Junior World Champions, and that gives us great satisfaction. But the most memorable moments comes from the team of staff that I work with, as they are the ones who help us reach our goals. And the pleasure I get out of that is priceless.
Q: What are some of your future objectives or aspirations?
MW: The focus is now totally on this and next Olympic season, so the future after that is still unknown. But the fact is that from day one our goal has been to develop the international sport of speed skating. And with that in mind, there is still a lot to accomplish. Many athletes are still searching for a more professional way of training and we always keep searching for opportunities to help them with this goal as well as try to develop coaches in their respective careers through so called “master classes.”
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