Orléans own Ivanie Blondin and Isabelle Weidemann have wasted no time in getting back on the top of the speed skating podium. As two-thirds of Canada’s female pursuit team they won back-to-back gold in the first two World Cup events of the season held in a bubble in Heerenveen, Netherlands over the past fortnight.
In both instances, they beat the favoured home team which includes Dutch veterans Irene Schouten and Irene Würst. In the second event held on Saturday, Jan. 29, they not only won the gold medal, they set a new track record in the process on the Dutch team’s home ice no less.
|(L to r) Valerie Maltais, Isabelle Weidemann and Ivanie Blondin skate to the first of two gold medals in Heerenveen, Netherlands. ISU PHOTO
The results surprised the speed skating world, not to mention the members of Team Canada whose training was severely curtailed this year when the ice making plant at the Calgary Olympic Oval suffered a critical mechanical failure on Sept. 5, forcing the team 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 opening World Cup event in Heerenveen, Blondin expressed the feelings of her teammates.
“In my mind I’m telling myself this is a 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 okay.”
Less than 24 hours later the Canadian girls captured gold.
The Canadian team arrived in the Netherlands 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 in Kananaskis, Alberta on Dec. 3.
After training for two weeks 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 gold medals in the team pursuit event and a pair of silver medals in her specialty the mass start. In both instances she was beaten to the finish line by Schouten.
In the first race held on Jan. 23 she lost by nearly half a second. In the rematch on Saturday Jan. 30, Schouten nipped Blondin in a photo finish, winning the race by two one-hundredths of a second, or roughly a centimetre.
The two women will face each other again when Blondin defends her title at the World Championships in Heerenveen on Feb. 13.