Wherever a Flemish top athlete steps onto the ice in 2024, a European title will automatically follow. First there was mass starter Bart Swings in Heerenveen (January 7), followed a week later by figure skater Loena Hendrickx (January 13) and short track star Hanne Desmet (January 14). And now also skeletoni Kim Meylemans. Not on skates, but on a sled. With which she hurtles down a life-threatening slope on her stomach at a speed of 120 kilometers per hour. That track was one of the most challenging of the entire circuit on Friday. The slopes of Sigulda in Latvia are known for being intense and very technical. “A wild animal of a job,” Meylemans says with a smile. A beast that is tailor-made for our experienced compatriot, who slides downhill mainly based on feeling and timing. “I love it. It is an avenue where you can show a lot.” The 27-year-old from Limburg has already been at the start in Sigulda six times. Her worst result: sixth place.
But that was not why Meylemans had traveled to cold Latvia on Friday, where the sixth World Cup of the season also served as the European championship. “I’m aiming for a medal,” she had said beforehand. She had never managed that at a European Championship. Her best result at a European championship was fifth place in 2020, not coincidentally also in Sigulda. “It’s just a matter of time before all the pieces of the puzzle come together nicely,” she hoped.
This time all the pieces of the puzzle indeed fell into place perfectly. In the first run, Meylemans immediately set the fastest time of everyone. Just like a week earlier in Lillehammer. Then, after a poor second descent, she dropped to fifth place in the final standings. With several world top players within reach of the standings, the blonde from Limburg knew that she could not afford to make any more mistakes in the second run this time. “I had a bit of doubts between the two runs, but the experience of Lillehammer helped me. That Nicole (her friend, the Brazilian Nicole Silveira, ed.) crashing heavily during her first run was the biggest challenge mentally for me. My second descent was not the most beautiful, but it turned out to be just enough.”
A few minor hiccups at the end resulted in an eighth fastest time in that second run. As a result, Meylemans lost her first victory in a World Cup to the Canadian Mirela Rahneva, but it was enough to keep the rest of the field – and therefore also all Europeans – behind her. The German Olympic champion Neise grabbed three hundredths of Meyleman’s silver, the British Amelia Colman took bronze at eleven hundredths. “I didn’t notice it at first because I didn’t know it was the Canadian who had finished ahead of me. When they told me that I was European champion, it was a very special feeling.”
Quite a feat The Little Belgian as Meylemans is affectionately called in the circuit. Germany and Great Britain are powerhouses in sledding. They invest millions of euros every year state of the art material and framework, while Meylemans, as a ‘little Belgian’ with a minimum budget and limited entourage, has to find her way in the highly technical discipline. Meylemans is therefore the first compatriot to succeed in winning a European Championship medal in the skeleton. She is also the first Belgian to win a European title in a sledding sport. In 2016, Belgian Bullets Elfje Willemsen and Sophie Vercruyssen won silver at the European Bobsleigh Championships. “It’s really crazy. This European gold is very valuable to me. Because this is the strongest and broadest field I have ever competed in. I’m going to need some time before this fully dawns on me.”
Meylemans’ European Championship title did not come out of the blue. For years she has been sliding closer to the world top little by little. After six of the eight World Cups, the Limburg native is second in the standings this season, behind the Dutch Kimberley Bos. It is a reward for her perseverance. Meylemans almost quit twice in the past two years. The first time after her Olympic dream during the Beijing 2022 Winter Games became a nightmare when she was quarantined for ten days after a positive corona test. A second time after she broke both ankles in a horror crash in Canada last season. Meylemans bent, but did not burst. Now that the spell has been broken with this European title, she can dream of more without pressure. A first World Cup medal in three weeks in Winterberg, for example. Or why not an Olympic medal of honor in Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2026 as the climax and ultimate revenge? No one will dare to say that it is not possible, although Meylemans prefers to keep his feet on the ground figuratively rather than literally. “It is only the first time that I have managed to win a European title. The World Cup is a different competition on a different and easier track. “There will again be a lot of girls eligible for the medals.”
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