Canadians 'up for challenge' of speed-skating worlds at Calgary's Olympic Oval

Legend Catroina Le May Doan cheers on host-nation athletes in bid to follow in her boots from 1998

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The last time the globe’s top long-track speed skaters raced for worlds glory at Calgary’s Olympic Oval it turned into The Catriona Le May Doan Show for Canada.

A gold in the 500 metres …

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And a silver in the 1,000, launching the soon-to-be Olympic queen to legendary status across the country.

“We definitely have big shoes to fill,” said Ivanie Blondin, ahead of Thursday’s start to the 2024 ISU World Speed Skating Championships. “But I think we’re up for that challenge.

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“It’s super exciting,” continued Blondin, one of the leaders and medal threats for Canada for the four-day event, which wraps up Sunday. “Definitely we’ve seen home-ice advantage in the past, so I’m excited for that. And just the atmosphere already … it’s nice to have everyone kind of support us. I’m just really looking forward to a home world championships.”

Of course, being at home doesn’t come without the obliged pressure.

Canada’s already a top speed-skating nation, so playing host to the world championships — which features about 200 skaters from 20 countries — doesn’t come without expectations.

Plenty of them, in fact.

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“To host the world in our own facility, to welcome people, to welcome our rivals and competitors to our home, where we can really put ourselves in the best position to compete and perform at the top of our abilities, is an exciting moment for us,” said Speed Skating Canada coach Mark Wild. “This is when you’re tested after all the preparation the athletes have done and all the hard work our coaches, our integrated support team and our medical team have done.

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“There’s not necessarily a target,” continued Wild, when asked about the amount of medals in mind for Canadians at the worlds. “Obviously, we’re looking to try and win as many medals as we possibly can. At the same time, coming off the four medals at World Cup 6 in Quebec City (two weekends back) and six the weekend before at World Cup 5 in Salt Lake City, I think our athletes expect themselves to be standing on the podium, and if that happens, that’s fantastic.

“But we just respect every athlete for what they do for our team.”

Top of mind of the 19 Canadian athletes competing in Calgary is Blondin herself.

The double-medallist from the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games has a dozen world championship medals to her name, including two gold in the mass start in both 2016 and 2020 and golds in each of the team sprint and team sprint last year.

Blondin joins Ottawa’s Isabelle Weidemann — a triple-medallist in Beijing and four-time medallist at worlds — and Quebec’s Valérie Maltais — a triple-medallist at worlds — as the ones to watch for Canada among the female stars.

“At this point, I think it’s realistic to say I’m aiming for three podiums — team pursuit, team sprint and the mass-start event,” said the 33-year-old Blondin, an Ottawa native. “So, hopefully, all goes well. But you just never know what could happen. Like last event, we fell in the team sprint, and it was a very unfortunate race, but it happens. You know … I’d rather it happen in that World Cup than here.

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“But we’re ready to go for it,” continued Blondin. “In the team pursuit and in the team sprint, as well. And in the mass start, Val and I have been working really well together. So I’m really looking forward to seeing how it all plays out. But, yeah, I’m mostly just excited. I don’t want to put too much pressure on my shoulders. I just want to have fun with it and just enjoy.”

Canadian speed skaters
Members of the Canadian speed-skating team during the Celebrity Dash on Ice at the Olympic Oval in Calgary on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

The hometown crowd can enjoy watching the Canadian men excel, as well.

Quebec’s Laurent Dubreuil has already had seven worlds medals draped around his neck, including a gold in team sprint and a silver in the 500-metre sprint — both earned last year.

As has Netherlands-born Ted-Jan Bloemen, with his seventh coming last year with bronze in the 10,000.

Canmore’s Connor Howe has two worlds silvers, with his latest carved out last year in team pursuit.

Saskatchewan’s Graeme Fish has a gold — in the 10,000 — and a bronze — in the 5,000 — from the worlds in 2020.

And there’s a dozen others, as well, hoping to tack on to Canada’s medal success.

“Yeah … Canadians have been doing well, which is exciting,” said Le May Doan, now CEO and president of Sport Calgary. “Ivanie — she’s been really dominating the last few years. Isabelle, who won three medals and was the closing ceremony flag-bearer in Beijing at the Olympics. And Laurent has been on the podium almost every single World Cup in the 500 metre.

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“I think where we’re struggling — and this is a bit frustrating for me — is in the women’s 500, which is what my race was,” added the double-medallist from those last worlds hosted at the Olympic Oval in 1998. “My kids think it’s really cool that I still have the Canadian record, which is kind of neat to a point. But records are made to be broken. So, hopefully, we can have a Canadian maybe break that record come the worlds.”


Don’t be surprised to see records in jeopardy at the Oval, says Le May Doan. “Calgary is still the fastest ice in the world.” … “To the program, to the facility, to sport in general, this is so great to see worlds back in Calgary,” added Le May Doan. “You know … to be celebrating a legacy facility of 1988 that is still one of the best in the world, it’s such fun — I love it. This is like a second home to me. And to see a lot of familiar faces is great. And to see a lot of the new faces is great, as well, because that’s about building up that next generation.” … The worlds begin with the 3,000-metre women’s race at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. It’s the same start time for Friday and Saturday, as well. Sunday’s final day begins at noon … Shuttle service is being offered to and from Canada Olympic Park, where both curling’s Scotties — at WinSport — and the World Cup half-pipe — on the COP hill — begin Friday, giving Calgarians a chance to take in all events at their convenience over the next few days.

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Alison Desmarais
Carolina Hiller
Anders Johnson
Abigail McCluskey

Ted-Jan Bloemen
Connor Howe
Maddison Pearman
Yankun Zhoa

Graeme Fish

Heather Carruthers

Jordan Belchos
Ivanie Blondin
Vincent De Haitre
Hayden Mayeur
Isabelle Weidemann
Jake Weidemann

Laurent Dubreuil
Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu
Valérie Maltais

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