It was probably inevitable that someone with the surname Swings would find his way into the world of professional sport. Even better when the word perfectly describes the sport that Bart Swings has excelled at; the rotating shoulders generate the power and the pace needed to be a top-class inline speed skater. Swings, nicknamed ‘The Flash’, has had a glittering career with multiple World and European Championships to his name. Despite appearing in just two editions of The World Games, the seven-time medallist has already firmly established himself as a legendary figure of the quadrennial multi-sport event. Now the Belgian athlete is set to face his greatest challenge yet: to travel to South Korea to participate in the Winter Olympic Games and, hopefully, come away with a medal.
To be successful in his quest, Swings has needed to switch footwear and disciplines. Because inline speed skating is not yet an Olympic event (though the inclusion of the discipline in this autumn’s Youth Olympics in Buenos Aries has given rise to hopes that this situation will not last much longer), he has had to swap his wheeled skates for a bladed pair, capable of generating speed on the ice.
The transition from inline to ice speed skating is comparatively straight forward, both disciplines sharing many techniques in common. Many athletes with successful road careers have sought Olympic glory: the best known example is Chad Hedrick, a star of The World Games in the 1997 and 2001 editions, who went on to claim gold in the Turin Winter Olympics 2006 and found himself on the Olympic podium a further four times. Swings did make his Olympic debut in Sochi four years ago and competed creditably, but in his two finals he agonisingly fell just short of a medal, finishing fourth and fifth. In PyeongChang the Belgian speedster is set to compete in the 1500m (February 13th), 5000m (February 11th) and Mass Start (February 24th). Set aside these dates in your calendars to cheer on a remarkable athlete!
Swings is listed as having won 27 medals at World Championships in his inline skating career, 11 of which were gold. At the European Championships the Belgian skater is even more prolific; he has been invited to take his place on the podium 41 times, with Swings being given the ultimate accolade on an astonishing 30 occasions. In October last year, he trialled a new pair of skates for the Berlin Marathon. It did not seem to affect him too much, just a fifth consecutive victory in the German capital in a new World Record time!
Multiple medals at The World Games
At The World Games, Swings has proved equally difficult to beat. In 2013 he overcame the heat and altitude found in the Colombian city of Cali to record victories in the Track 10K and Road 20K elimination races. For variety, he added a silver in the Track 1000m and a bronze in the Road 10K points.
Speaking of his time in South America, Swings said “I love Colombia, it is one of the nicest places to go 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 Colombia.”
Fast forward to 2017, and in Wroclaw Swings had to find room in his bulging trophy cabinet for another two gold medals and a silver, all bearing the logo of The World Games. His seven medals from the two most recent editions of the multi-sport event have elevated Swings to equal fourteenth in the all-time standings of the greatest athletes of The World Games. As the Belgian is still only 26 years old, he can expect to advance further up the ladder of fame as he competes at Birmingham in 2021, and other future editions of The World Games.
When not amassing heaps of valuable metals that would be enough to stock a large jewellery shop, Swings is likely to be found in the corridors of Belgium’s prestigious University of Leuven, where he is studying for his master’s degree in electrical engineering. His choice of subject means that he is probably one of the few athletes in the world to have attracted personal sponsorship from a company specialising in microchips!
Several of The World Games medallists competing in PyeongChang
Two other champions of The World Games have also made a similar transition to Swings, swapping their inline skates for a pair more suitable for sprinting on ice. One is Chinese Taipei skater Huang Yu-Ting, who delighted the home fans at Kaohsiung 2009 by memorably claiming three titles, and then added to her medal collection four years later in Cali by picking up another gold and a bronze for good measure. Huang Yu-Ting says: “It is amazing being at the Olympic village, it is like a dream come true!” Colombian Pedro Causil was also a double medallist at each of these editions of The World Games, standing on the top and bottom step of the podium on both occasions. The two countries will be making their Winter Olympics Speed Skating debut when these golden athletes step onto the icy South Korean oval track.
Wroclaw silver medallist Livio Wenger (SUI) and bronze medallist Peter Michael (NZL) are other athletes who will be found in the Olympic village, having competed in Poland in The World Games 2017. Also there is Ronald Mulder, who possesses an Olympic bronze from when he competed in Sochi, and Erin Jackson (USA), who qualified just four months after strapping on ice skates for the first time. Special mention too for Shane Dobbin, the New Zealand flag bearer at Sochi: the 38-year-old veteran has come out of retirement to compete one final time. His two silver medals at The World Games are museum pieces, having been gained in the editions in Akita (2001) and Duisburg (2005).
We at The World Games wish all our family members good performances that will make their respective nations proud! And Bart Swings, you have shown us repeatedly what you are capable of, and now it is time to use the biggest stage of all to showcase your speed!
Brian Salmon for The World Games