HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
There will be an international long-track speed skating season after all. But it will be short – inside 24 days, there will be two World Cups and the 2021 world single-distance championships – in a bubble environment in Heerenveen, The Netherlands.
Speed Skating Canada has allowed national team athletes to decide whether they want to race or not during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ivanie Blondin and Isabelle Weidemann, a pair of Ottawa athletes based in Calgary, are going in opposite directions.
Blondin, the defending world mass-start champ, is hungry for consistent oval training time and will participate in Heerenveen as a prep for the 2022 Olympics. She left Monday with husband/Hungarian skater Konrad Nagy for Budapest, where she will start training before moving to Inzell, Germany. They married Dec. 3.
Weidemann, who ranked second in World Cup distance races (3,000/5,000 metres) in 2019-20, is staying in Canada and extending her training period heading into the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
Like Blondin, Weidemann hasn’t been able to train on the Calgary Olympic oval since it shut down in early September because of a mechanical issue. Parts have been ordered for a possible January repair.
Training has been a mix of activities for two of the world’s best skaters – riding training or traditional bikes, lifting weights, doing in-line and short-track skating. They had a two-week on-ice camp in Fort St. John, B.C. and trained on outdoor ice in Red Deer on Saturday.
“I don’t think I’ll race this season,” Weidemann said in a phone interview last week. “I’m trying to prepare my body for next summer’s training and ultimately the Olympic year. I’m trying to get a base (of training) to prevent injuries.
“(Speed Skating Canada) has let the athletes decide (about going to Heerenveen). It’s a personal decision, if you feel comfortable to go or stay home. I think that’s awesome that they would let us decide.
“My individual decision now is no. I fully support athletes who are going, but for me and my mental health, I don’t want to be in stringent quarantine.”
The 25-year-old is concerned about catching the COVID-19 virus and more quarantine time when she comes home.
Weidemann fully supports Blondin heading to Europe for racing in the pre-Olympic year. Blondin and Weidemann form two-thirds of Canada’s No. 2-ranked team pursuit squad. Blondin was third in 2019-20 World Cup 3,000/5,000-metre rankings.
“She’s a total competitor. She’s a trained-to-compete person. She needs that to jump start her season and keep her motivation,” added Weidemann, who focuses on day-to-day technical skating and physical goals.
Weidemann also has decided to take a few more university courses to work her way towards her bachelor’s degree in geology (seven courses left). “I’m not thinking too much about competing or feeling ready to compete,” she said.
Perhaps the best part of the past nine months, when COVID-19 hit full force, was having a national-team training camp on the 400-metre indoor oval track in Fort St. John, which is in the Peace River district of north-eastern British Columbia.
“The whole team was in a bubble and we went back and forth between the hotel and the oval,” the Gloucester Concordes product said. “They have a 400-metre oval and it’s totally awesome. I wish Ottawa had one. They did it right.”
During the 2019-20 World Cup season, Weidemann won the opening 3,000 metres in Belarus and the circuit final, while also posting thirds in a 3,000- and 5,000-metre races. In team pursuit, she helped Canada to one first-, one second-, and one third-place showings.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.