‘I want to become the very best’

E-commerce student Sebas Diniz made his definitive breakthrough as a top ice-skater at the end of last year. A look back at the season in which he nestled among ‘guys you normally only see on TV’. “If you want something, you have to work hard for it.”

Back to the beginning of the last skating season. It is the end of October 2023, the qualifying matches for the World Cup competitions will be held in Thialf. Although the season has only just started, these are already very important competitions for skaters. Anyone who skates well here qualifies for the World Cups, a series of international competitions that are broadcast live by the NOS. Sebas Diniz (22) is full of tension: he feels that he is in shape, but will that show today?

And it did! Sebas skates very strong, rises above himself and overtakes top skaters such as Kai Verbij, Jenning de Bo, Janno Botman and Hein Otterspeer in his favorite distance, the 500 meters. He ultimately finishes second and thus qualifies for the World Cup competitions for the first time in his career. On to Japan, China, Poland and Canada!

This came as a surprise to many people. For you too?

“It was indeed a surprise, but mainly for the outside world. I knew what I was capable of; During training and test matches in the preseason I already felt that things were going well and that I was in good shape. I think you should always believe in yourself, so that’s what I do at such a moment. But yes, of course we have to wait and see how things will go next in such an important competition, the first measurement moment. I was really happy afterwards!”

The first World Cup competition was in Japan. You skated against world champion Jordan Stolz…

“That was nice indeed. It went very well, until the last corner, where I lost my balance and fell. It was funny to see on TV images: one moment I’m still there and suddenly I’m gone, you didn’t see me fall. So it didn’t go the way I wanted it to. That was sour.”

What is it like to compete with the absolute world top?

“Special. You are on the ice with the best skaters in the world, guys you normally only see on television. That was a truly special experience and a dream

come true. But ‘belonging’… no, it didn’t feel like that. I am not yet at their level, although I am getting closer.”

Now that the skating season has ended, how do you look back on the past few months?

“I learned a lot and gained a lot of experience. I see the World Cups mainly as a learning opportunity, where I could learn a lot. What do the best riders in the world do with the start, how do they approach a corner, which line do they ride? But not everything went as I would have liked, at times it felt as if that one fall had had a big impact. If that hadn’t happened, things might have looked different. But that’s ‘if’ and it doesn’t help you. I just have to look at next year and do better.”

As a pure sprinter you choose a special way of training.

“My trainers went to examine the very successful Olympic track cyclists to see what we can learn from them. They mainly train very explosively; training at 95 percent of your ability. In addition, you need to rest a lot, so that you can give everything during training. That is completely new for skaters. There are certainly still areas for improvement, but I am now looking into this together with my trainers, so that we can do even better next season.”

Are you a ‘guinea pig’?

“We obviously discussed this in advance with the thought: no one will do what we are going to do. So it can work out well, but it can also work out less well. I like taking risks. Ultimately, I want to become the very best and I won’t get there without taking risks.”

In some periods you see little ice.

“In certain weeks I mainly do cycling training, jumping and strength training. Of course I think it’s a shame that I’m not on the ice and sometimes it’s difficult to accept, because that’s why I became a skater and that’s what I enjoy doing the most. But I have confidence in this approach. It takes me further. Since I started skating for Team IKO, I have made great strides, so I feel like things are going well.”

500 meters, everything has to happen in about 35 seconds. There’s a lot of pressure involved.

“For such a match you are indeed full of adrenaline. You can afford to make a small mistake on the ten kilometers, but that is really not possible on the 500 meters. One bad turn… Maybe that’s why long-distance skaters are a bit more relaxed.”

It is of course frustrating when things don’t go the way you want, but I always try to turn disappointment into motivation. I really need that pressure, even before a match like this. I generally do well with that, so I don’t have much trouble with it.

But immediately after a fall like in Japan, what happens in your head?

“At that moment it was of course really frustrating, I was really disappointed about it. After that fall, I only had brief contact with our team psychologist via WhatsApp, due to the time difference. My attention actually immediately turns to the next match. There isn’t much time to dwell on something at such a moment. But I’m like: okay, I have to pick myself up again. And I immediately think about the next day, the next match. How can I ensure that I recover as best as possible and can then be back on my feet? That’s how I was raised. If you want something, you can achieve it, but you have to work hard for it, because won’t just be given to you.”

The season is over. What is the transition like from top sports life to sitting behind a laptop for your studies?

“That is difficult, I must admit. I need some time to get back into that climate. But I am well supervised by my study supervisor and the top sports coordinator at Windesheim, the communication is good. In 2020 I started with the associate degree in E-commerce, but three years ago my skating career really gained momentum and I decided to fully focus on that. So I study at my own pace and it doesn’t matter to me that it takes me longer. The study programme is purely because I think it is good for my development.”

The Winter Olympics will take place in early 2026. Is that tournament your big goal?

“I think it would be really cool to become Olympic champion in the 500 meters. That is the ultimate goal. I don’t care when that happens, it can happen in 2030, as long as it happens once. At the moment I find it difficult to estimate my chances, I am still up-and-coming, I don’t know yet where my limit is. To achieve that I still have a long way to go. I will work hard for that.”

Text: Wouter van Ernst
Photos: Jasper van Overbeek

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