Felix Rijhnen is becoming particularly aware of how differently Olympic and non-Olympic sports are perceived in this country.

His personal moment of glory on an ice oval in distant Calgary made the 31-year-old famous in one fell swoop.

The man from Darmstadt surprisingly qualified for the Winter Olympics in Beijing, was one of the first German athletes to be nominated and will be competing in speed skating over 5,000 meters and in the mass start competition in February.

Since then, Rijhnen is no longer a top athlete in his niche who can fully concentrate on his sport, speed skating, and his sideline, the sports promotion group of the Hessian police. A conversation with political dignitaries here, a media appointment there – Rijhnen is breaking new ground. On rollers on asphalt, the southern Hessian has long been one of the best in the world, was world and European champion, and was the first German to win the Berlin Marathon in 2019, the biggest speedskating race ever.

"That is of course more important than the Olympic qualification now," says Rijhnen.

But: The size of the stage makes the difference.

And Rijhnen's career changer story is moving.

In 2015 he was already doing well as a runner on asphalt and ice, successfully swapping out runners and rollers under his feet seasonally.

But narrow-mindedness and old inertia in the German Speed ​​Skating and Short Track Association (DESG) consistently slowed him down.

The association demanded full focus on ice work and, when Rijhnen didn't want to give up speed skating, stopped funding almost completely.

Mind you, an association whose athletes have hardly been able to deliver internationally valuable results for years.

Bad and good surprises

In January 2021, Rijhnen got into his car and drove from Darmstadt to the speed skating base in Berlin. The Frenchman Alex Contin worked there as a coach who, when he was active, was a world class skater and ice skater at the same time. Promises were made to look for a path to Beijing. Rijhnen threw himself into the work

on ice

, made great progress - especially technically he has some catching up to do after years of being away from the ice - and tried to ignore what could have become of him if he had been offered adequate ice training in the previous six years.

The mass start competition offered the best chances of qualifying. This format, with its “different levels and dynamics”, as Rijhnen puts it, is also used in speedskating in a similar way. “A lot more is possible in the mass start. It's not necessarily the strongest who wins there, but the tactically cleverest.” That's how it was at the famous World Cup race in Calgary, when he escaped the field as a breakaway and finished third – the first podium finish by a German athlete in years.

In the mass start, surprises are possible, but they can also be nasty, as he recently experienced at the European Championships in Heerenveen.

With two laps to go, a nudge from a Russian opponent sent him out of the corner and practically out of the race.

Nevertheless, the focus in training is on the mass start.

"A top 10 result at the Olympics would of course be great," he says.

Rijhnen achieved the third-fastest German time over 5000 meters in Calgary in 6:12:01 minutes.

However, his best time is still a few seconds away from the world best.

Rijhnen has been training in Inzell since Thursday.

Between Christmas and New Year he practiced in Erfurt.

“There,” says Rijhnen, “everything went so well.

I felt completely familiar with the medium of ice and felt like a real speed skater for the first time.”