Elite Amateur Sport Skating

Olympic bronze medallist Isabelle Weidemann follows in Kristina Groves’ tracks

By Dan Plouffe

The moment that inspired Isabelle Weidemann’s Olympic dream replayed itself a dozen years later on the other side of the world, as the 26-year-old replicated fellow Ottawa native Kristina Groves’ women’s 3,000 metres bronze medal win from the opening day of speed skating at Vancouver 2010.

“It’s pretty surreal right now,” Weidemann told the CBC after the Feb. 5 race. “I’m pretty emotional, but I’m very excited.”

Watch Weidemann’s full race at: https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2000067139630

And CBC’s full race broadcast at: https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1992003651774

Sitting 7th at the 1,400-metre intermediate time, viewers may have thought that Weidemann was fading (like fellow Ottawa skater Ivanie Blondin had in the previous pair en route to a 14th-place finish), but those who have watched her win 23 medals know a strong finish is her signature.

“I think I hit about four laps to go and I could see my pair was starting to slow down a little bit, and I knew I had a little bit more so I think at that point I was like, ‘I can fight this,'” recounted Weidemann, who guaranteed her podium place with a time of 3 minutes, 58.64 seconds that ranked 1st through 9 of 10 pairs.

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The Netherlands’ Irene Schouten wound up surpassing Weidemann with an Olympic-record time of 3:56.93 to win the competition, while Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida took 2nd in 3:58.06.

Canadian speed skater Isabelle Weidemann celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the women’s 3,000 metres at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games on Saturday, Feb. 5. Photo: Andrew Lahodynskyj/COC

The woman Weidemann knocked off the podium was none other than Martina Sablikova, who was the champion of Groves’ 3,000 m race in Vancouver.

Just 14 at the time of Groves’ surprise podium to kick off the 2010 Games, Weidemann says that triumph was the moment where she decided she wanted to go to the Olympics herself.

“I wasn’t really involved with speed skating yet. I was at the club level, you know, skate once a week or whatever. And to be honest, I wasn’t totally sold on speed skating,” the Gloucester Concordes product reflected during a CBC Sports Player’s Own Voice Podcast episode. “But I watched her race and I was like, ‘Oh, I want to be a part of that.'”

Kristina Groves. File photo

Groves’ path to 4 Olympic medals and 3 World Championship titles mirrors Weidemann’s journey to date in many aspects. Neither were international stars as juniors, but they slowly but surely kept on chugging up the ranks and progressing up the ranks.

“She is my hometown hero, we’re both from Ottawa, she grew up skating on the same oval that I did,” Weidemann highlighted. “And growing up, a lot of people would point her out to me. They’d be like: ‘Kristina Groves, you look just like her, you could skate just like her.’

Teenaged Isabelle Weidemann at a Gloucester Concordes short-track speed skating practice at Bob MacQuarrie Recreation Complex – Orléans. Photo: Dan Plouffe

“And that really, really fuelled me as a kid, you know, a 13-year-old gangly kid at the Oval. And I was like, ‘Oh man, I just want to be like Kristina Groves.’

“She skates so fast, and it made me so excited about speed skating. Watching somebody from my hometown, from my home oval, my home club, skate on the World Cup circuit, skate at the Olympics – it was so incredible.”

Weidemann wound up winning the Kristina Groves Female Athlete of the Year Trophy from the Ottawa Sports Awards in 2018. (Groves won the award so many times from 2004-2010 that the organizing committee eventually named it after her shortly after her post-Vancouver retirement.)

And doing the colour commentary for Weidemann’s big moment – as she captured Canada’s first medal of Beijing 2022 and milestone 200th medal of all-time at the Winter Olympic Games – was none other than the legend herself.

“Weidemann absolutely nailed this race,” exclaimed Groves, who called the race from the CBC’s studios in Toronto alongside Steve Armitage (due to COVID concerns). “That was as close to perfect for her as I could possibly imagine – brilliant pacing strategy.

“She did not get rattled by (Norway’s Ragne) Wiklund starting fast. That was such a good race. She is going to be on the podium for sure. Beautiful finish.

“I am so impressed with her composure, how she has taken what she has learned over the last four years and grown into the skater she has become. This is wonderful to see her come into her own at this moment, on this day.”

Read more: Speed skating’s Kristina Groves, curling’s Jamie Sinclair connected to Olympics as TV analysts

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