HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
Sport: Speed Skating (long-track)
Event: Women’s 3,000 m, 5,000 m & team pursuit
Local Club: Gloucester Concordes
By Martin Cleary
HIGH ACHIEVERS BOUND FOR BEIJING SERIES (Part 4 of 5): Ottawa’s Isabelle Weidemann is on the top of the world in women’s endurance long-track speed skating, but it hasn’t been a smooth journey to become No. 1.
Weidemann, 26, will enter the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games with the possibility of winning one, two or three medals, which is strictly based on her consistent high placements this season on the World Cup circuit.
The World Cup season has already concluded in the women’s team pursuit class as Weidemann, Ottawa’s Ivanie Blondin and Valérie Maltais have been declared the 2021-22 champions for their unprecedented racing. The Canadian trio won all three team pursuit races to put a lock on first place.
When you check the World Cup women’s endurance standings, which cover the 3,000- and 5,000-metre tests, you’ll also see Weidemann’s name at the top of that list. The World Cup Final will be staged after the Olympics and Weidemann has an opportunity to finish her season as a double champion.
But what does that mean for her as she approaches her second Winter Olympics? Certainly, she has proven she’s capable of going head to head with the world’s best and challenging for a medal, which she has indicated is a goal for this season.
In her first Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, in 2018, she showed the potential to be a future Olympic medallist with three top-10 performances – fourth in the team pursuit, sixth over 5,000 metres and seventh in the 3,000-metre race.
“I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it,” Weidemann said in a phone interview about the dream of winning a medal at the Olympic Games. “It’s such a childhood dream. I’d be so honoured to bring home a medal and celebrate it with my family.
“But that’s not the thing that drives me. I take my inspiration and drive from continuously getting better. It (a medal) would be the cherry on top. But I hope to go and skate to the best of my ability.”
Weidemann will compete in the team pursuit, 3,000 metres and 5,000 metres, but she realizes her World Cup standings give her no advantage going to the start line to race against the clock.
In her three World Cup races over 3,000 metres, she has had two second-place results and one fourth. The lone 5,000-metre race in Stavanger, Norway, saw her finish second. A conversation about potential Olympic medallists in those two endurance races also must include The Netherlands’ Irene Schouten and Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida.
Schouten is in third place in the World Cup long-distance race standings only because she competed in just three of the four races. In her three races, she posted three victories. Lollobrigida earned the other win over 3,000 metres at the Calgary Oval, which is where Weidemann placed second in a personal-best time of three minutes, 55.334 seconds on her home ice.
Weidemann entered the World Cup circuit for the 2015-16 season. But it was at the 2016 world single-distance championships where she made her first notable impression. She placed fifth in the 5,000 metres and 10th over 3,000 metres.
“It definitely hasn’t been smooth to reach the top,” added Weidemann, who spent almost the past three weeks living in a bubble atmosphere in a Calgary Airbnb with teammate Alexa Scott to protect herself from getting a positive COVID test. “I’ve learned a lot and it has been exciting and fun.
“At my first worlds (2016), I was fifth in the 5K. I said: ‘Oh, I’m not that far off (the top). If I give myself a few years, I’ll be good to go.’ How naïve I was. That was the thinking of a 20-year-old rookie.”
In the years that followed, she progressed, but it was slow and at times rewarding. To this point, she has won nine gold, eight silver and six bronze World Cup medals in her three events. At the world championships, she has two single-distance silver medals, and a silver (5,000 metres) and a bronze (3,000 metres) from the 2019 all-around meet.
“I’ve spent the last four to five years trying to close the gap from fifth to compete with the top skaters. I’ve had good results generally speaking and have been consistent,” Weidemann said. “The last few years I’ve been working towards ensuring I’m consistently around the top spot.”
For a number of those years where she has been trying to close the gap, Weidemann was a victim of going too hard, too early.
“I was going too fast in the fall,” she admitted. “I would totally burn myself out training and travelling. I wouldn’t (be ready) for the big competitions in February (world single-distance championships or Olympics). For the past few years, I fell short, below where I was ranked.”
But entering the 2021-22 season, she took a different approach.
“This year, my biggest goal was to get to the Olympics,” Weidemann said. “I felt refreshed. I wasn’t burned out. I had stuff in the tank. I made a mistake in the past by going hard way too early.
“I’m excited to race. I’ll be very nervous because it’s a big event. But I want to perform well. I’m beyond excited and proud.”
Slow, gradual build towards the top
Getting to the top of the World Cup standings and winning international medals has unfolded for Weidemann because of “the small, little things” that have allowed her to improve each year.
She has had the willingness to learn and improve every season. Weidemann has spent more time in the weight room, developing muscle to upgrade her power on the ice and keep up with Blondin and Maltais in the team pursuit. Having her family move to Calgary from Ottawa several years ago has been a big plus for her as well.
But probably the biggest factor that has allowed her to climb the standings is having one coach for the past four years. Remmelt Eldering has been that coaching pillar.
“I have worked with the same coach for four years and that consistency has brought me success,” she added. “I take every year and build on it. I don’t have to start from scratch each year.”
One of Weidemann’s big strengths on the ice is her pacing. In her final two 3,000-metre World Cup races this season, she consistently skated 30-second laps on the 400-metre oval. While that placed her outside of the top-10 in the early going against other skaters, her superb steadiness allowed her to win a medal or challenge for one in the end.
Weidemann will have her first Olympic race, the 3,000 metres, on Feb. 5.
“We had so much fall and summer training. Now, we’ll see where this tapering period will take us. We’re practising our recovery techniques and getting the body and the brain ready,” she said.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 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.
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