The COVID-19 pandemic has hit competitive athletes especially hard and none harder than Canada’s amateur athletes.
Sports – all sports – have been suspended indefinitely, including speed skating.
Three athletes with local roots are trying to make the best of a bad situation with upcoming season still very much in doubt; Ivanie Blondin, Isabelle Weidemann ans Nicholas de Haître.
|Ivanie Blondin goes for a run along the Elbow River in Calgary with her pet St. Bernard Brooke. PHOTO SUPPLIED
Blondin, 30, is coming off the best season of her career. She won five gold and two silver medals in World Cup competition, along with a gold medal in the Mass Start of the World Single Distance Champion-ships. But her proudest accomplishment was placing second at the World Allround Championships.
Weidemann, 24, had an excellent season as well, winning two gold and two silver medals in World Cup competition.
The Orléans natives also set a new Canadian record in the Team Pursuit with teammate Valerie Maltais.
De Haître, 25, took the year off from speed skating to focus on cycling. The move nearly paid off in a medal at the Track Cycling World Championships in Berlin in April where he placed fourth in the men’s kilo. He missed the podium by just 0.016 seconds.
With the Summer Olympics postponed until 2021 and the Winter Olympics slated to take place in Beijing in February 2022, De Haître is hoping to become the first Canadian male athlete to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics since Pierre Harvey accomplished the feat in cross-country skiing and road cycling 40 years ago.
For the past several weeks, he has been working with Speed Skating Canada and Cycling Canada to try and establish a training schedule. His goal is to be as good in one sport as the other.
The great unknown is when he will be able to compete in either sport given the current pandemic.
The International Skating Union plans to organize a working group charged with the task of ensuring the safety of the athletes during the 2020/2021 season which isn’t scheduled to begin until November. One possibility is to hold the competitions with-out any fans in stands.
While it is not ideal, it’s a provision Blondin is willing to accept as long as she can compete.
“It won’t be the same without people cheering you on in the stands, but it’s better than not skating at all,” says Blondin who is currently living in Calgary to be close to the national training centre at the University of Calgary.
For now, she is more worried about her training. During the month of April she put in 160 km of road work with her boyfriend and fellow speedskater Konrad Nagy and their St. Bernard Brooke.
On May 4, the national team began train-ing again together, but apart. Because of the pandemic, the university is closed and so is access to the training centre. For now Blondin and her teammates must train on their own, although she and Weidemann, who also lives in Calgary, will sometimes cycle together.
Blondin says her biggest challenge is psychological.
“I feel bad complaining that my season might not happen next year when there’s a pandemic going on and people are dying, but at the same time the sport is my life, but at the same time health is more important than sport so its a been a real roller coaster ride of emotions,” says Blondin. “It’s definitely been more tough mentally than physically.”
Blondin also knows things could be a lot worse. She stays in touch with speed skating friends in other countries on Facebook where there has been a total shutdown and they can’t even go outside to train. She also feels bad for her fellow Canadian Olympians who had the rug pulled out from under them when the Tokyo Olympics were postponed for a year.