By Ethan Diamandas
It’s been a grueling stretch for Canada’s long-track speedskating team, but the fourth leg of the ISU World Cup brought a welcome return to home ice.
The group has been all over the world the past few months, with stops in Poland, Norway, and Salt Lake City, Utah.
From Dec. 10-12 the world circuit moved to Calgary for the last event before the Beijing Olympics.
For Ottawa’s Isabelle Weidemann, one of Canada’s best endurance skaters, the idea of racing in front of home fans helped her push past some serious fatigue.
“I love competing in front of my family,” the 26-year-old said a few days before the event, “and showing the rest of Canada all the work that we’ve done, especially over the summer — the hard months when nobody really gets to see what we’re doing.
“It’s incredibly special, and it gives me a lot of energy, too.”
That boost translated onto the ice, where Weidemann picked up a silver medal in the 3000-metre race. Her cumulative 205 points lead all other female “Long Distances” skaters on the circuit.
Weidemann, Valerie Maltais of Saguenay, Que., and fellow Ottawa-native Ivanie Blondin snatched a gold medal in women’s team pursuit for the third straight race, pushing Canada to the top of leaderboard for that event with 112 total points.
Blondin also won silver in the mass start, finishing just two tenths of a second behind the 1st-place finisher.
On the men’s side, Ottawa’s Vincent De Haître — a 27-year-old international-level skater and cyclist — finished 17th in the 1000-metre event and 10th in the Division B 1500 metre.
With the fourth World Cup event wrapped up, the long-track team will now gradually ramp up training for the 2022 Winter Olympics beginning Feb. 4.
“I think there’s for sure still some tweaks to make,” Blondin said. “We’re, in a way, kind of still in training mode, so we’re not necessarily trying to peak for these World Cups. The main goal is the Olympics.”
Blondin described a training method called ‘tapering,’ where skaters will preserve energy by slowly easing the intensity of their workouts leading up to a big event. Sometimes, though, that process is easier said than done.
“I think it’s been something that we’ve struggled with in the past quite a bit,” Weidemann said. “Just like going way too fast early in the season and then not having enough leftover for February.
“It definitely is a challenge. I mean we’re all very competitive and it’s hard to say no when this is your job.”
This is where experience plays in. As much as Weidemann, who raced in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics but didn’t medal, wants to max out her training, she understands the utility of taking things slow and focusing mainly on tactical adjustments in the coming months.
Blondin, a veteran of the 2014 and 2018 Games, said she feels ready for Olympic competition.
“I think my chances are a little bit greater this time around,” the 31-year-old said. “And I think our team pursuit has done phenomenally over the past couple years, so that’s really exciting.”
The women’s mass start event will also be a race to watch for Canadian skating fans, and Blondin said a fresh start in 2022 is just what she needs.
“The mass start is a little bit of a gamble,” Blondin said. “At the last Games I fell, and that was kind of like my main discipline, but it happens.
“It’s kind of just like flipping over the page and moving forward at this point, but I feel ready. I’m excited for these games and I think I can put forward some really good performances.”
World Cup Wonders
Ottawa’s had more than just speedskaters competing on their sports’ international circuits this winter season.
Former hockey player Mike Evelyn nearly won his first World Cup bobsleigh medal in Altenberg, Germany in early December. He and his two-man sledding partner, three-time Olympic pilot Chris Spring, placed 4th overall and had the 2nd-fastest overall run at the event.
Evelyn and fellow Ottawa bobsledder Cody Sorensen have also been racing together as teammates in Canada’s second four-man sled. In World Cup races so far this year they’ve placed 13th, 24th, 11th, 13th and 15th.
Skeleton racer Mimi Rahneva, who grew up in Ottawa after moving to Canada’s capital city from Bulgaria at the age of 10, had her best international result in almost two years on Dec. 10. At a World Cup race in Winterberg, Germany, Rahneva placed 3rd.
Hannah and Jared Schmidt, ski-cross racing siblings from Dunrobin, had among the best showings of each of their second World Cup seasons in the third event of the circuit. Jared won his second career medal, a bronze, in what was his best showing so far this season in Arosa, Switzerland on Dec. 14. Meanwhile Hannah placed 8th overall — which is only second-best to her 5th-place finish the weekend prior at the Val Thorens, France World Cup event.
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