Elite Amateur Sport Skating

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Olympic speed skater Blondin heads to Europe to train/race, Weidemann elects to stay home

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-at-Home Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

By Martin Cleary

Twenty Ottawa and area swimmers are on the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic radar, 16 have received trials’ invites and seven are eyeing the 2021 Tokyo Games.

The modified Canadian Olympic and Paralympic swimming trials are slated for April 7-11 in Toronto, after a three-day, pre-meet training period. There will be a maximum of 20 swimmers in each event.

Strictly following all COVID-19 safety protocols, including physical distancing, all races will be timed finals as each event will have two 10-swimmer competitions. There will be no spectators.

Swimming Canada recently issued its initial list ranking the top 30 athletes in each Olympic event based on long-course race results from Sept. 1, 2018 to Dec. 6, 2020. Trial invitations were sent to the top 20.

The deadline for first-round acceptances was Friday, Jan. 15, and, depending on what races the swimmers select, more invitations could be extended in the second round, beginning Jan. 20.

Eli Wall. File photo

Montana Champagne and Regan Rathwell, both of the Greater Ottawa Kingfish Swim Club, Eli Wall of Toronto Swim Club, Ottawa’s Alexandre Perreault, Smiths Falls’ Bailey Andison of Perth Stingrays Aquatic Club, and Pembroke’s Alyson Ackman of Pointe-Claire S.C. will press for an Olympic berth.

Two-time Paralympian Camille Berube of Natation Gatineau is the only National Capital Region swimmer in the Paralympic swim trials, which will have 44 world-ranked qualifiers.


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Champagne has achieved the FINA B Olympic qualifying time standard in the 400-metre IM (4:21.40) and 200m butterfly (1:59.21), where he’s ranked No. 2 in Canada for both races and is No. 4 in the 200m IM (2:02.09).

“He has had a really good year so far,” said his former University of Ottawa coach Dave Heinbuch. “He’s on the outside a little bit, but we’re hopeful.”

He’s about 2.5 to 3 seconds off FINA A standard in his 200m races.

Wall, a Toronto Titans International Swimming League team member, is No. 2 in Canada in 200m breaststroke (2:12.80) and No. 3 in 100m breaststroke (1:01.70), which are both FINA B standards.

Perreault, who represented Canada at the 2018 world short-course championships and 2019 Universiade, has the B standard in the 100m butterfly (53.47) and is ranked No. 3 nationally.

Andison, who posted good short-course results inside the International Swimming League bubble, is No. 3 and No. 5 respectively in the 200m IM (2:11.33, A standard) and 400m IM (4:45.20, B).

Ackman, a triple medallist at the 2019 Lima Pan-Am Games, has national top-10 rankings in six freestyle races, including five FINA B standards. She’s one to three seconds off the A standard over 100m, 200m and 400m.

Rathwell, who has committed to the University of Tennessee for 2022 and raced the 200m backstroke A final at the 2019 Canadian world championships trials, is ranked No. 5 in 200m back (2:12.39, B), and No. 9 in 100m back (1:01.16, B).

Berube, who competed at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, is ranked No. 6 in the world in the SM7 class 200m IM. She also will race in S7 backstroke and S6 breaststroke races at the trials.

University of Ottawa Gee-Gees’ Lauren Shearer (200m breaststroke), William Barrett (200m breaststroke), Louis Bertrand (400m freestyle) and Conor Smythe (200m backstroke) will be looking to crack the top 8 at trials.

The top-20 rankings also include five swimmers from the Nepean-Kanata Barracudas Swim Club: Madison Archer, 800m/1,500m freestyle; Mia Zahab, 200m butterfly/400m IM; Megan Wheeler, 200m backstroke; David Quirie, 200m/800m/1,500m freestyle; and Colton Milne, 200m breaststroke.

Hoping for a top-20 promotion after qualified swimmers make their choices are: Gee-Gees’ Adelle Yamashita-Ball, 800m freestyle, and Jamie Demers, men’s 100m breaststroke; Barracudas’ Breckin Gormley, 100m butterfly; and Swim Ottawa’s Gabriel Tejada, 100m butterfly.

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 martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.

Isabelle Weidemann. File photo

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.

Isabelle Weidemann (front) leads Ivanie Blondin in team pursuit competition. File photo

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 martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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