Orléans native and Gloucester Concordes member Ivanie Blondin kicked off the
pre-Olympic speed skating season with a pair of medal winning performances in Heerenveen, Netherlands on the weekend.
On the opening day of the meet, Blondin teamed up with fellow Orléans native Isabelle Weidemann and Quebec native Valerie Maltais to capture the gold medal in the team pursuit event. She followed that up the next day with a silver medal in the Mass Start.
The two medals were part of a five medal haul by Team Canada in the first World Cup competition since last February. The season was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic forcing Blondin and her teammates to train at home while the International Skating Union came up with the adequate protocols to hold competitions.
To make matters worse for the Canadians, the Olympic Oval in Calgary suffered a critical mechanical failure on Sept. 5 forcing them to rely on dry-land training and the odd training session on outdoor ice.
The lack of a proper training camp and international competition put the Canadians at a distinct disadvantage compared to their fellow competitors from Europe who have been training and competing in their own national events for months, thus the lowered expectations.
Heading into the World Cup in Heerenveen, Blondin expressed the feelings of many of her teammates.
“In my mind I’m telling myself this is training camp to lay off the pressure,” Blondin told the CBC the day before the competition started. “I’m trying to be realistic. I don’t think there will be many podiums and that’s OK.”
The ISU has created a competition bubble in Heerenveen where two World Cup events will be held, leading up to the World Champ-ionships which will also be held in the Dutch city from Feb. 11-14.
The Canadian team arrived in the Nether-lands on Jan. 9 after testing negative for the coronavirus and waiting out a 14-day quarantine period, giving them just two weeks to prepare for the competition.
Blondin had the good fortune of being able to train with the Hungarian team for a nearly a month before entering the bubble. She left for Europe on Dec. 14 after marrying Hungarian team member Konrad Nagy on Dec. 3.
After two weeks training with the Hungarian short track team in Budapest, Blondin joined the Hungarian long track team in Inzell, Germany for additional training before entering the bubble with Team Canada. The additional training paid off in a pair of medals.
“I’m pretty happy with a gold and a silver in just our second week back on the ice,” Blondin told the CBC after receiving the mass start event.
The team will be back on the ice competing for even more medals in the second World Cup event this weekend.
Despite the challenges being presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian skaters are looking forward to a potentially COVID-free Olympics in Beijing in 2021.