NU.nl newspaper publishes a lengthy interview with a Dutch Olympian in the week leading up to the Olympic Games. The fourth episode features BMX sisters Laura (27) Smulders and Merel (23) Smulders. They are totally different, but have done everything together for many years. “By the books, our combination would not work.”
It is unlikely that the Smulders would have sent two BMXers to Tokyo if they had the Games held in 2020. Merel sustained a severe concussion last January after a fall in Australia. This injury is not easily treated and requires a lot of rest.
Laura sits next to Merel, her younger sister, in the canteen at FCV Wycross. This is the BMX association from their hometown of Wijchen. “The day after her accident, she wanted to go to a beach with me. I replied, “You are insane. You have to stay in your bed.” But you can’t.”
Merel says, “That’s right.” “But you didn’t just go to the beach. The Gold Coast is one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. Then you’d be gone all day, so I’d have to be there alone.
Laura:Point taken. However, I had to slow down Merel at home. She needed to do nothing, sleep a lot, and be as unaffected as possible by screens.
Merel: “The physical therapist gave me a schedule I had to follow.” It takes too much time, and I thought it was impossible.
Laura: “I used to be the annoying handbrake. Haha. “I’m just an asshole,” I said.
Merel: “Yes that was a difficult period.”
Roll of honour Laura Smulders, supercross
- Olympics: Bronze in 2012, 7th in 2016
- World Cup: 2018 World Cup: Silver, bronze and gold. 2014 World Cup – Bronze in 2014.
- EC: Gold in 2014, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2019, bronze 2014
Roll of Honor Merel Smulders (supercross).
- World Cup: Silver in 2018
Laura Smulders (left), Merel Smulders, in the canteen at their BMX Club.
“It works so you don’t have to make any changes about it.”
Merel and Laura Smulders have been doing almost everything together for nearly four years. They share a room, train together and go to all the big sporting events together.
It was a huge success that culminated in the 2018 World Cup. Laura won the Baku gold medal, and Merel was next to her with silver. Laura laughs, “Occasionally it can get very intense that you see each other every day.” Sometimes it can be very delicious.”
What is the intensity?
Laura: “We are very diverse. This can be very beneficial, but sometimes we clash and then we argue. We are skilled at expressing our feelings again and refusing to let it go. The weather is fine.
“Our personalities couldn’t be further apart.”
Laura Smulders, BMX Star
Merel: How do they say that every time? Opposites attract. It’s rare to find people who can live together and play together at this level of sports.
Are you really polar opposites of each other?
In unison: “Yes.”
Laura: “We both took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which was a character assessment and was conducted by Rico Schuijers (sport psychologist). Merel came back with her results a few years after I did. We compared our results once she got home. What did the results show? The booklet says that our combination of personalities does not work. On this test, you can’t be farther apart than us.
Merel: Laura is introverted and I’m extroverted. Laura is more introverted than me. I am very social and want to do everything. Laura’s pronunciation is slow. Ha! This is a deep one.
Laura: “But it works well for us in one way or the other. Then you can’t change it. They complement each other well, I think. Merel sometimes says to me to relax and not take too much hay off her fork. She also tells me to get out of the house at least once a week to have fun and be social.
Have you ever asked your partner if it would be more fun to not do everything together?
Merel: I won’t live alone in Nijmegen, but that is not true. It’s not because the current situation is no longer viable, but because I want my own place.
“I’m always the little brother now. Although that’s often very sweet, Laura is sometimes a bit more my mother than I am. Maybe our relationships will be even more successful if we aren’t always on each others’ lips. Because I hate being alone, I immediately stated that I would visit Laura at least twice per week.
As an eighteen year-old, Laura Smulders won bronze at the 2012 London Olympics.
“When Merel’s screams were heard, I knew she had taken home silver.”
For the Smulders, BMX has been a family hobby since its inception. This began at FCV Wycross twenty years ago. Soon the whole family, father Frank, mother Wilma, and their children Koen and Laura, traveled throughout Europe weekend after weekend, in a campervan or caravan, to compete in BMX races.
Laura states that the experience felt more like a vacation. “A BMX campsite in our country is a big deal. There was also a grassy field next to the track where everyone camped. It was always great fun.”
Are you the only one who always went with the other five of your friends?
Laura. “Our parents were always there and are still there when it is possible for us to drive. The mother then relaxes by the camper, reading a book. Dad is the team manager and stays all weekend.
Merel: “I cannot imagine that daddy won’t ever be there of his free will.” It’s just not what I see.
For the family, the 2018 World Cup is the highlight. You finished first and second. What is the most memorable thing about that day?
Merel: “The finish. I hugged Laura and daddy stood there. It was a little dream. Everything happened so quickly.
Laura: “I was the one in front and I heard many bicycles clanging against the ground behind. I couldn’t see what was going on so I thought, “I hope Merel has not been there.” Merel shouted at me after I crossed the finish line. It was then that I knew she was second. It was a familiar sound that I recognised. Ha! A high-pitched scream isn’t something you hear very often.
Laura Smulders (left), drives behind her sister Merel Smulders.
You thought about Merel during the World Cup final and wondered how she would react. Do you worry about two people when racing?
Laura: “Yes. And that’s actually really not fun at any point. It sounds ridiculous, but it would be easier to do if Merel was not there. It is best to disconnect everything around me for my own performance. I don’t always succeed.
“In May, for instance, at the World Cup, Verona. I was stressed all week because Merel could qualify for the Games. It cost me a lot of energy and I didn’t cycle as usual. On Saturday I fell in. Merel was second in the final and that was enough. The next day, I rode much more freely.
How was it that moment when you both knew you were going together to Tokyo?
Merel said, “Great. I vividly recall that that Saturday night, we were enjoying ice cream and that I felt an overwhelming emotion when a friend sent us an article that contained my qualifications. It was there, I thought. It was done anyway.”
Laura: “Now that Laura and her sister are going to the Games together the tone won’t be that Laura and Herb participate. Merel truly belongs. She has proven she belongs at the top of the world. We really are sisters and we go to Tokyo together.”