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Ottawa at the Olympics Day 4: Bronze medallist Isabelle Weidemann follows in Kristina Groves’ tracks

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By Dan Plouffe, Martin Cleary & Ethan Diamandas (This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.)

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:

And CBC’s full race broadcast at:

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.

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

Other Ottawa athletes in action on Day 4:

After their domestic league folded and COVID starved them of competition for most of 2 years, Jamie Lee Rattray and the Canadian women’s hockey team have unleashed their pent-up energy in a massive way in Beijing.

Team Canada has flown out of the gate with 12-1 and 11-1 victories over Switzerland and Finland to open their tournament. Rattray, the winger from Kanata, has wreaked havoc on rival defenders with her speed.

Kanata’s Jamie Lee Rattray (left) celebrates one of Canada’s 23 goals scored in its first two games. Photo: Matt Zambonin/HHOF-IIHF Images

The 29-year-old Olympic rookie has displayed a propensity for highlight-reel assists (you can watch those here and here).

And then she joined Canada’s goal-scoring party too with a vicious top-shelf backhander that made it 8-1 in third period of the game against Finland.

Rattray sort of had the role of Canada’s 13th forward in the tournament opener – she had just 9 minutes, 5 seconds of ice time, which was lowest on the team except for Mélodie Daoust, who was injured in the game. But Rattray received top-6 minutes against the Finns, seeing the ice for 14:19.

Staying fresh and focused will be important for Canada, with their final round robin games on back-to-back days against the Russians and Americans following today’s day off.

Role reverals for Homan/Morris in blowout loss & win

John Morris and Rachel Homan are 4-2 after two thirds of their round robin matches at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games. Photo: Leah Hennel/COC

The mixed doubles curling team of Rachel Homan and John Morris had their 3-game winning streak snapped with authority by Sweden in their first of two matches on the day. Down 6-2 without a hope of making much of a dent, the Canadians conceded before throwing their final stone of the 7th end.

“Sometimes it doesn’t go your way, and that’s really what happened today against Sweden. They played amazing, and we were just a little bit off,” Homan wrote in a Curling Canada blog post where she also talked about how awesome it was to be at the Olympics with Ivanie Blondin, who grew up on the same street as her in Orleans.

But the tables turned the opposite direction in Homan/Morris’s second match as they took total control of the second half of their contest with USA, finishing with a 7-2 win in 7 ends.

The rebound victory improved the Canadian pair’s record to 4-2, which puts them into a crucial top-4 position in the standings (4 of 10 teams will qualify for the semi-finals).

Day 5 Preview: Rachel Homan missed daughter’s first steps, but hopes to inspire kids by showing how hard work and dedication can let you live your dreams

When Canada comes calling to ask you to play at the Olympics, there is of course only one answer. After COVID wiped out the Canadian mixed doubles trials, Rachel Homan was selected to compete alongside John Morris in Beijing, but the 32-year-old from Orleans kind of wishes she could have been three places at once.

The rest of her four-woman rink just finished competing at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts national championships in Thunder Bay (skipped by Emma Miskew with Homan away, they went 4-4 and were on the wrong side of a logjam for the playoff round. Then Joanne Courtney jumped on a jet in time to do colour commentary for CBC on her usual skip’s last game).

And there’s also of course home in Beaumont, AB (just outside Edmonton), where husband Shawn Germain is riding solo with their kids, Ryan and Bowyn. Homan has been away from her family since she met up with Morris for a pre-Games training camp. While they practiced in Canmore, 10-month-old Bowyn took her first steps.

“It sure is amazing being able to represent Canada, but it definitely pulls at the heart missing Bowyn’s first steps,” Homan wrote on Instagram alongside a video of her newly-mobile tot.

It eased the pain a little to be spending time with long-time friend Morris in Canmore, where they did snowshoeing, ice fishing, played cards, and hosted a mock cooking show on social media when they weren’t curling.

“It’s definitely tough to leave your little kids,” Homan said in an interview with the Sports Pages’ Ethan Diamandas. “But those are things that go through every parent’s mind, and a bit of guilt of putting yourself and your dreams before their needs in the moment.”

Once her children are older, Homan hopes they’ll be able to learn from her journey to the Games.

“I’m showing them that hard work and dedication are always number one,” highlighted the Cairine Wilson Secondary School grad. “And we support each other for each other’s dreams and aspirations and showing them that you can kind of wear lots of hats and be successful in different areas of your life.”

Little laughs, and the Duke of Earle

CBC Sports’ That Curling Show caught up with Homan’s husband, former pro hockey player Shawn Germain, who is holding down the fort back at home with their their two little ones.

It was going well until Homan inadvertently “video-bombed” Germain by trying to call him in the middle of the live interview (he tried to decline, but his phone wound up booting him off the show for a moment).

Homan must have taken a lesson from her old coach (and John’s father) Earle Morris, who had tech problems of his own a day earlier at the start of his interview with That Curling Show.

Earle Morris. File photo

But the Morris family back home wound up putting on a great show, complete with piles of red-and-white cheer decor. No word on whether any items were still intact from the Vancouver 2010 Olympics when they shelled out over $500 on red boas and wigs and goodness knows what else.

Back then, John was just a lowly three-time world champion who hadn’t yet cracked the Olympics, and Earle had just coached Homan to her first junior national title (on the same weekend where John won the final Grand Slam before the weekend).

At that time, Earle likely couldn’t have foreseen his pupil and his son one day competing together at the Olympics – John won the inaugural mixed doubles Olympic event in 2018, to match his men’s gold medal from Vancouver 2010 – but he certainly knew he had a top talent.

“I’ve been saying to people for a couple years that she is the best shot-making female skip on the planet,” Earle told the Sports Pages’ Dan Plouffe 12 years ago when Homan was 20. “I believed that last year, I believe that today, and I know I’ll believe it next year – she’s really something.”

Earle, who coached Homan for 10 years in total, once again preached on That Curling Show that “I think that Rachel is the best female shot-maker in curling.”

Rachel Homan in 2009 at the Ottawa Curling Club. Photo: Dan Plouffe

He added that he believes John and Homan make a good pair because “(John)’s not someone who is going to succumb to the pressure of being on a big stage. He’s always embraced the big games, and I think of Rachel being the same way.

“The key will be for them to continue to get comfortable with each other and continue to find a game plan that’s going to work best for them.”

The Homan/Morris duo continue their 2-match-a-day pace overnight and tomorrow morning Ottawa time. They will be the only Ottawa athletes in action on Day 5.

Day 5 schedule

Extra goodies for your weekend

Thank you for joining us Ottawa at the Olympics followers – we hope you’re enjoying our coverage of the Beijing 2022 Games so far!

We’ve been getting some love for our work from some other media sources as well, and we are of course always thrilled when our Ottawa amateur athletes’ stories are amplified.

City of Ottawa Sports Commissioner Mathieu Fleury’s latest In The Community video features an interview with University of Ottawa grad Jean François Ménard, a mental performance coach who has prepared some of Canada’s top athletes for the Olympics (and you’ll find some words from Ottawa Sports Pages Executive Director Dan Plouffe about our Olympics coverage in there too).

High Achievers columnist Martin Cleary returned to his ol’ stomping grounds with a recent opinion piece titled: “Beijing’s controversial Olympics — Let the athletes speak with their actions.” Cleary writes that the Games are a time to press the pause button on world tensions and allow everyone to focus on the world’s best athletes.

Cleary – who has covered 6 live Olympics and many more from home over his 48-year career writing about our local sports community – was also a guest on TSN 1200 the day of the Opening Ceremonies. Of course, there is no one better to turn to when it comes to having their pulse on the local sports beat, and Cleary gives a great overview of Ottawa’s Olympic team alongside some great stories from past Games. You’ll find a bunch of those golden nuggets in his latest High Achievers column on our website too.

Cleary has watched piles local athletes rise up the ranks from youth competition up to the Olympic Games. “It’s nice to be able to connect with them right from the very start and see all the steps they go through, and all the ups and downs,” he shared, noting his first story on Rachel Homan came when she was in her early teens and was excelling in Ontario bantam-level competition.

Isabelle Weidemann with the Gloucester Concordes. Photo: Dan Plouffe

We have to agree that that’s pretty special. And it’s also lots of fun to be able to reach deep into the vault and bust out some earlier photos when they’ve just won their final Olympic medal (that’s a teenaged Isabelle Weidemann to your left at a Gloucester Concordes short-track practice at Bob MacQuarrie Recreation Complex – Orléans).

Another memory that comes to mind for the Sports Pages’ Dan Plouffe from earlier in Weidemann’s career was how ecstatic she was to finish one place short of the podium at the 2011 Canada Winter Games in Halifax (where they offer free rollerblade rentals to skate on the concrete speed skating oval in summer, by the way – how about we steal that idea, Ottawa?).

Opportunities for speed skaters in Ontario to race long-track are limited, and a future 6′ 2″ Weidemann didn’t stand out much in short-track. But the Canada Games in Halifax served as a breakout moment for Weidemann, when she skated to 4th place in 4:55.62 (a decade later and she’s now gone a full minute faster).

“It was actually a pretty big turning point in my career,” the Colonel By Secondary School grad reflected in a 2017 interview when she began sniffing at the World Cup podium.

Ottawa curler Lisa Weagle, attending her second Olympics, was also hit by a strong dose of childhood nostalgia as she walked into the Bird’s Nest for the Opening Ceremonies, so we’ll leave you with her Tweet to finish up our day:

This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.

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