By Charlie Pinkerton
As two of Ottawa’s top speed skaters peak as they never have before, their former coach’s kitchen gets busier and busier.
Rice crispy squares to speed skating doesn’t sound like the perfect accompaniment, but to Mike Rivet’s racing pupils it’s become one that’s synonymous with elite success.
The OG of the Rivet line of international level speed skaters can be thanked for that. When Rivet’s athletes reached the summit of Mont Ste. Marie after a difficult dryland workout, they’d be rewarded with the renowned Rivet rice crispy squares (which his wife had a hand in making).
Years later, Blondin asked for the same bonus if she broke the two minute barrier in the 1500 metre race at a national team trial, Rivet recalls.
The stakes were raised, as she had asked for a full batch instead of a small treat, but Rivet obliged. Blondin broke two minutes and a tradition was born.
“It’s kind of been a story now that whenever our top skaters at the World Cup level (win a) medal, they actually get a tray of rice crispy squares,” Rivet said.
“So last year when I went to Calgary for one of the major competitions where our girls were skating, I actually had a suitcase and all that was in it was rice crispy squares.”
In ISU World Cup races last season, Blondin won two individual medals. Isabelle Weidemann, another Ottawa product and Rivet disciple, had a breakthrough year in which she won three World Cup medals as an individual skater.
This year, both skaters are doing even better.
Weidemann jumpstarted her year with a record-breaking performance in the women’s 5000m at the 2019 Canadian Long Track Championships, besting speed skating legend Cindy Klassen’s mark of 6:48.97 by about a second and a half. Klassen’s record had stood for 13 years.
On the World Cup circuit, Weidemann picked up from where she left off last year. At the first World Cup in Belarus, she placed 1st in the 3000m. Through three more World Cup events, in which she’s raced in four individual races, she’s won a silver medal and two bronze medals.
Blondin has been on an even more incredible tear. In Belarus, she won gold in the mass start and bronze in the 3000m. After a mass start silver at the second World Cup event in Poland, Blondin pulled off five straight gold medal finishes, which impressively came in five different skating disciplines – the 1500m, 3000m, 5000m, Mass Start and Team Pursuit.
Weidemann and Blondin also skate for Canada’s No. 1 world-ranked team pursuit squad that’s finished on each step of the podium in three World Cup races.
As much as an elite level athlete’s progression can be predicted, the 24-year-old Weidemann’s ascension to becoming one of the world’s best long track speed skaters this year makes sense. Rivet has told the Sportspage in the past that he had predicted Weidemann would be gracing international podiums in 2017 or 2018.
In Weidemann’s words, what’s helped bring her to another level this year is the introduction of inline training (rollerblading in the summer) as well as training with male skaters more frequently.
“I had never done (inlining) before. It’s pretty uncommon to not have done it as a long-tracker so it was fun to learn,” Weidemann told the Sportspage.
Blondin’s re-asserted dominance – to the degree that she’s reached – was less predictable. She struggled through depression last season, which she thinks may have affected her on-ice performance.
“That was maybe my downfall of the season. I think I maybe wasn’t performing as I should have because of maybe my mental state, not because I wasn’t strong enough to do so, but because mentally I just wasn’t there,” Blondin told the Sportspage.
She has been a staple on Canadian national teams for more than a decade and has competed in two Olympic Games (Weidemann’s Olympic debut was two winters ago at the 2018 Games). At 29 years old, she had reached a point where some thought her best years were behind her, Rivet noted.
“A lot of people were thinking that Ivanie was getting to the end of her career and then these people need to have their eyes opened because she’s actually skating better than she has,” Rivet said.
Another factor that may be contributing to Blondin and Weidemann’s success is the consistency afforded to them of being able to work with Dutch speed skating coach Remmelt Eldering for a second season.
Weidemann said last year that Eldering’s overhaul of her training had helped her elevate her racing. Rivet also thinks maintaining stability with a coach they work well with has been important.
“It makes a big difference for them,” said the 2018 Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Coaching Achievement honouree. “They have a lot of mutual respect between themselves, the athletes and the coach and then the great chemistry. That’s your recipe for success right there.”
Both women have set personal records in the 1500m, 3000m and 5000m during Eldering’s tenure with the Canada’s national team.
Both also said in interviews that they view the stretch that they’re in as the best of each of their careers.
Still ahead this season is one more World Cup event (at home in Calgary Feb. 6-7) and the Feb. 12-15 World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships in Salt Lake City.
As Weidemann put it, there’s one goal: “Just skate fast.”
One thing is already for certain: When this season’s over, Rivet’s going to be keeping busy delivering plenty of trays of rice crispy squares.