Naomi Schläger is a Dutch speed skating fan turned photographer. She runs the site Passion For Skating. Naomi shares her experiences with the sport and its athletes from behind the lens. It is great to read the passion embodied by a spectator for the sport of speed skating and the love of Canada by someone who has yet to visit our nation. Thank you so much for sharing your story and pictures Naomi! Make sure you check out the YouTube clip above of some of Naomi's best pics of Canadian on the World Cup circuit!
My bank account is empty, I am dead tired of a full weekend of standing in the crowd and I’m chilled to the bone. Nevertheless, I have a grin from ear to ear and I’m thinking of other opportunities to do it all again!
My name is Naomi Schläger and I am passionate about speed skating.
From November till March, I travel as much as possible to visit all ranges of competitions, varying from regional junior events, to national or world championships. I almost live by the same calendar as the professional speed skaters, the only difference is, I’m not an athlete, I’m a photographer.
A photographer of speed skating.
Where other photographers have a certain specialism and do speed skating on the side, for me it’s all about speed skating. My love for this sport was not born as it is with most Dutch people. It seems all Dutch people have love for the frozen water in their veins and fever in their heads when temperatures drop. With me this isn’t so much the case.
I’m not a very athletic person and my balance is terrible, so after falling over and over as a kid, I gave up all skating activities. I liked it better, sitting on the side of the canal, listening to the sound of blades on ice and encouraging the other people to skate faster or further.
After years of rainy, warm winters, it was January 1997 when my father forced me to get up in the middle of the night to watch people skate a tour of 200 kilometers on natural ice between 11 cities. I was 14 years old and the only reason he could provide for his teenage kid, was “this is something you wouldn’t want to miss and will remember for the rest of your life.” Little did our family know this would be the root for my current daily winter activities.
We watched it all, from start to finish and beyond; and I loved every second of it.
This heroic tour between the eleven cities of the province of Friesland in the north of Holland, is special because it only takes place in cold winters. The past 100 years, this has only occurred 15 times. It infected me with the skating virus but the last tour was in 1997 and we haven’t had one since. Luckily for me, a year later, another historic speed skating event took place; a young Dutch skater, named Jan Bos became the first Dutch sprint champion of the world. This was followed a few weeks later by the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics and that’s when I got truly inspired for the sport. The anxiety before the race of Shimizu, the distinct victory of Romme and the surprise, called Marianne Timmer. I saw all the passion for the sport and the emotions that came with it and I can honestly say, my life has not been the same since.
Growing up, my passion slowly grew with me. First I only watched big events on television, later I watched everything I could find and in 2003 I went to my first live event in Thialf Heerenveen, the mecca of long track speed skating. The roar of the crowd, the sound of the blades on ice, the chill in the air and the tension before a race. Many more visits to Thialf have followed and in 2005 I went to my first event abroad. The World Single Distance Championships in Inzell, were held on an outdoor track surrounded by snow kept mountains. I was freezing every minute of the competition but never have I wondered one moment, why I was doing it. I took every detail in like a sponge and loved every minute of it.
After Heerenveen and Inzell, many other countries and ice rinks have followed. More trips to Germany, Norway, Italy and even Poland have followed, combining my love to travel with the love for the sport. During these first events I took a small simple camera with me to take pictures as souvenirs. These first pictures were of such bad quality, I think my phone nowadays makes better ones but nevertheless I loved it. After every event, I couldn’t wait to get home, to check the photos and every time I tried to do better than the time before. I went to all the competitions my budget and work schedule would allow me to go to and every time I brought my camera with me. Over the years, my enthusiasm for speed skating grew, and the size and ability of my camera grew with me. I switched from normal compact camera to my first SLR camera, lenses came and went, always looking for bigger and better. Once the event was over, everybody packed their bags and was done for the day and went home, but I have found myself on numerous occasions sitting behind my computer in the middle of the night, editing and selecting pictures to post online.
During those moments at 3 am in the morning, when everybody else is asleep and was already thinking of the next event, I have asked myself many times why I was doing this? Why am I spending hours and hours selecting pictures, editing them, naming them and uploading them? It doesn’t bring me any money or fame. It sometimes takes me longer than an average 8-hour working day to process everything and yet, I do it weekend after weekend, giving myself severe RSI and sleep deprivation. And the answer is very simple and clear and non-argumentative: I just love it.
I love the sport so much, I want to show my love and passion to the world. I choose photography to show people and I’m always looking for that right angle or facial expression. The full stretch of an arm and leg at the same time, captured in a still frame. The passion for skating in one single image.
The passion for skating has always been my main drive. I love to take the pictures at different events and I am working on becoming a professional photographer. But the essence will always be the passion for skating and to support the sport and the athletes. And by athletes, I mean all athletes. There are only a few that I really dislike, but overall I support them all. Men and woman, juniors and seniors, A-group or B-group, it doesn’t matter to me, although I favor some over others.
It was, when I noticed I favored a lot of Canadians over others, when I bought a huge Canadian flag to take with me to the competitions.
Catriona LeMay-Doan and Jeremy Wotherspoon were among the first Canadians who got me very excited. The style and grace in which they crushed world records and their competitors is exhilarating , but I also remember shouting at my tv with tears in my eyes during the Torino 2006 Olympics 5k for woman, when Clara Hughes got her hands on the gold medal. The approach to skating of Kristina Groves and Cindy Klassen is an inspiration to many and it helps you to see things in perspective.
I tend to lose some perspective when it comes to a certain Canadian. Somewhere in 2005 I first saw a young guy skating around the oval and something in the approach of the corners or the stride on the straight end, caught my attention. His name is Denny Morrison and I like to see him race because it looks so powerful. By the time we first met in Thialf, I was trying to develop myself as a web designer and during an instant moment, I offered him to make a website.
At that time I did not know how much time and effort it would cost me to build the website, let alone maintaining it and keeping it updated.
The process of the design and interface was done at a certain point, the content management is a never ending story as long as he decides to skate. Every winter it takes a lot of googling to find new articles, results and photos. I feel now comfortable enough to say, that I’m an expert on getting skating information via the web from Canada and this is also the reason I started to support more Canadians.
Obviously, during hours of checking result lists and rankings, you run into certain names over and over again at the top of the list. Curious after seeing good results, I was looking forward to see them race and I was rooting for them to make the World Cup team, so I can see them skate and take pictures. One day, I hope to be able to go to Calgary, which I consider to be the Oval of all Ovals currently built. I once received a postcard from the Olympic Oval in Calgary and I’ve kept it on my desk at work. Each working day it reminds me of my goals and focus on my priorities. A little stimulation for working on my dream: visiting a big speed skating event at that Oval and taking brilliant pictures to show everybody my passion for skating.
It would also be a great opportunity to collect even more Canadian signatures on my maple leafed flag. I must be careful though, it’s a big flag but slowly, it’s starting to run out of room for more autographs.
This either means there are lot of new talented skaters in Canada, or I need a bigger flag…
Be sure to 'like' Passion For Skating's Facebook fan page to see all of Naomi's latest photos!