By Dan Plouffe & Martin Cleary (This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.)
Ivanie Blondin returned to the podium Saturday, and with it came her smile too.
Within the span of 2 weeks at the Beijing Olympics, the 31-year-old speed skater from Orleans relived her journey of the past 4 years, when she crashed to the bottom and then built herself back up.
With her second medal of the Games – a Saturday silver in the women’s mass start – that story now has a happy ending.
Of course crossing the finish line and earning a place on the podium is a great source of joy for a fiercely competitive athlete, but there was also a victory at the start line for a person who’s struggled with mental health during her quest to be the best.
A major low came after the 2018 Olympics. Blondin had gone into the Pyeongchang Games as a strong medal contender, but a crash in the semi-final round of the mass start killed those hopes.
“At the last Olympics, I was in the same position as I am now. I was a multiple World Cup and world championship medal winner,” Blondin highlighted during a pre-Games interview with High Achievers columnist Martin Cleary. “I truly believed I could come home with one medal.
“But I felt I had failed. I came home empty-handed.”
She found herself in a state of depression, but eventually eased her pain in part by fostering rescue dogs and helping them work through painful moments.
“When you go from such a high to such a low, if you do bounce back properly, sometimes these things make you stronger,” Blondin reflected as part of the CBC’s Toyota Breakthrough video series.
Blondin would wind up needing all the tools she’s acquired in Beijing. With a career total of 21 gold, 24 silver and 22 bronze medals won in World Cup competitions, Blondin was set on making the 2022 Olympics her “redemption Games” and winning the Olympic medal that was missing from her resumé.
In her opening 3,000-metre race on Feb. 5, Blondin placed 14th in a discipline where she was ranked 7th and had podium potential.
When Blondin lined up for her second race of the Olympics 2 days later, the 1,500 m, there was hardly even a wave to the camera as she was introduced – her stone-cold look was a stark contrast to her usual greeting during World Cups, and hinted at the pile of stress that lay beneath.
In finishing 13th, Blondin felt she performed like the underdog that she was in the event, and decided to skip the Feb. 10 5,000 m competition to focus on the team pursuit and mass starts events – her strongest.
“My 3,000-metre and 1,500-metre, I think I underperformed quite a bit and had to pull myself out of a another deep hole that I created,” Blondin said today in a post-race interview distributed by the Canadian Olympic Committee. “I’m just really happy and grateful for the support team that I have around me to help me turn it around quick.”
Blondin’s Olympic dreams at last came to fruition in Tuesday’s team pursuit competition when she won gold alongside Valérie Maltais and fellow Gloucester Concordes athlete Isabelle Weidemann, who earned her third medal of the Games in that event.
“Ivanie’s worked on so many things behind the scenes just to get her to this point,” Weidemann said during an interview with the Ottawa Sports Pages’ Dan Plouffe. “Myself and the rest of my team are just very, very proud of all the work that she’s done this year.”
After ceremonies and interviews, Blondin called her parents on FaceTime once she got back to her hotel room.
“She said (the medal) was a big burden off her back,” her father Bob Blondin said in an interview with Cleary. “‘That is what I wanted,’ she said. There’s so much stress. She showed us her medal. She said it was heavy. She was tired.”
Blondin’s turnaround continued in the mass start.
The two-time Kristina Groves Female Athlete of the Year Trophy winner from the Ottawa Sports Awards first skated through the semi-final without trouble, safely collecting points on the first and third sprint laps and then finishing her heat in first place.
The final mirrored many World Cup races where Blondin has excelled. Canadian teammate Maltais helped stretch out the field of skaters by surging ahead at key times, and then Blondin and The Netherlands’ Irene Schouten burst to the front in a furious battle to the finish.
Blondin led that sprint around the final corner, but Schouten caught her come the finish to take the gold by 0.06 seconds.
“It was a hard race – tactically, there was a lot of jostling for position. And people were very physical, but that’s the environment that I like to be in – the more chaos, the better it is for me,” Blondin recounted. “I think I was a little bit impatient in the last lap. And if I would have maybe held back, who knows what could have happened?
“But at the end of the day, I’m just happy to be here and be on the podium.”
When Blondin was the first athlete introduced for the mass start, her big smile and wave were back. It helped that members of the Canadian women’s and men’s hockey teams were in the stands supporting her, Blondin noted afterwards.
And then during the victory ceremony, there she was playfully sticking out her tongue and showing off her prize to the camera. It harkened back to the days when teammates would have to look out for a surprise Blondin piggyback request in the Orleans rec centre lobby (jumping on their backs without warning). The days where she felt free of the world’s weight and was having a blast fooling around and skating circles with friends.
Fast forward many years and past piles of hurdles, and the first thing the multi-Olympic medallist said in her post-race interview was that “it was a fun time.”
“I had fun from start to finish,” she underlined.
Ottawa bobsledders 11th half-way through four-man competition
Ottawa’s Mike Evelyn and Cody Sorensen are in position to perform above their #12 ranking from this season’s World Cup circuit following the first 2 of 4 Olympic four-man bobsleigh runs. Alongside pilot Chris Spring and Sam Giguère, they currently sit just one-hundredth of a second outside the top-10 in 11th.
In the first heat, Sorensen and Evelyn helped push Canada to a solid start time of 4.97 seconds – just 0.05 away from the mark posted by Justin Kripps’ top Canadian sled that came down in 3rd place as well as the 1st-place German team. But the Spring sled went off-line in a hurry at the top of the course and though the rest of the ride was smooth, the crew found themselves in 12th after the first run, 0.97 seconds off the pace.
The second run was solid from top to bottom as Team Spring earned matching 10th-ranked start and finish times, and had a smaller 0.62-second gap to the top time of the heat. Their combined time of 1:58.43 is 1.43 seconds back of German bobsleigh living legend Francesco Friedrich in 1st, and 0.01 out of 10th.
“They were alright, I’m not upset with them,” Spring said of his two runs via the Canadian Olympic Committee. “I thought I drove pretty well and the boys pushed good. We just have to find some hundredths tomorrow.”
“We for sure have a few more hundredths in the tank tomorrow,” said the two-time Olympian.
Ottawa Olympians’ Day 19 Schedule:
Day 19 Preview: 4-man bobsled the last local competition, keep an eye out for flag bearer
Cody Sorensen and Mike Evelyn will be the final Ottawa Olympians in action with the third and fourth runs of the four-man bobsleigh event. Theirs will be the third-to-last competition to finish out of all sports at the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
Chelsea, Que.’s Laura Leclair and Katherine Stewart-Jones had been scheduled to compete in the final Olympic event of the Games, the women’s 30 km cross-country ski mass start, though the start time has been bumped up to 10 p.m. Ottawa time tonight in hopes of missing strong winds forecast for later in the day in Beijing.
You may like to add 6:45 p.m. ET to your calendar tonight too. That’s when the Canadian Olympic Committee will unveil Canada’s Closing Ceremony flag bearer via its digital and social media channels. With a medal of each colour, Ottawa’s Isabelle Weidemann is certainly a strong contender to receive the honour.
Sorry, we have no inside scoop to share on this well-guarded secret, but here’s a clue: Canadian athletes are leaving China within 48 hours of their last event, and we haven’t yet seen any signs that Weidemann has landed back in Canada, so that’s got us keeping our fingers crossed…
Who might be next to call themselves Ottawa Olympians?
If you’ve been watching the Olympics, then you probably need no introduction to RBC Training Ground – you may have caught their commercials once or twice, or heard about Canadian medallists who got their start in new sports through the “nation-wide talent identification program dedicated to finding and funding Canada’s future Olympians.”
That’s how Ottawa’s Mike Evelyn found bobsleigh after playing junior hockey with the Nepean Raiders and Ottawa Jr. Senators and five years at Dalhousie University. Evelyn didn’t make the top-30 grade to earn funding towards his Olympic quest, but he did catch the eye of Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton, which invited him to a trial in Calgary in spring 2018.
Before the Winter Olympics got underway, the results of the most recent RBC Training Ground trials were unveiled, and Ottawa area athletes fared the best of any city in the country, earning 7 of the 30 RBC Future Olympian tickets.
More than 4,000 athletes (ages 14-24) were tested in the areas of core speed, strength, power and endurance and watched by coaches and high-performance recruiters from 10 Canadian sport governing bodies.
If you’d like to get an early look at the local crew we may be watching come future Summer and Winter Olympics, take a look at the OLYMPIC PROSPECTS SERIES High Achievers columnist Martin Cleary put together profiling the seven selected local athletes:
· Kylar Rathwell: A former provincial artistic gymnast, she has been recruited to be an aerialist in freestyle skiing.
· Riley Richardson: An Ottawa Elite and provincial-level basketball player, she caught the eye of Rowing Canada.
· Maël Rivard: The national U23 slalom canoe kayak athlete and 2021 world championship competitor will remain with his sport.
· Evie McDonald: An Ontario sprint canoe team member, she had two sixth-place results in junior at the 2021 world championships and will remain in her sport.
· Mark Zielonka: A member of the Ottawa River Runners, he raced at the 2019 and 2021 world slalom canoe kayak championships in junior and U23 respectively and will remain in his sport.
· Maren Bradley: An Ontario sprint kayak team member, she won a bronze in women’s junior K4 500 metres at the 2019 world junior championships and will remain in her sport.
· Béatrice Olson: She competed at the 2021 world junior slalom canoe kayak championships, reached the junior C1 semifinals and will remain in her sport.
Yes, we’re starting to tell you a bit about future Games – hopefully it helps us face the reality that the 2022 Olympics are almost done… But there’s also so much to celebrate, and we’re excited to both look back and ahead when we bring you our final day of Ottawa at the Olympics coverage of the Beijing Games tomorrow.
(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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