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Thirteen Canadian speed skaters gearing up to compete internationally for the first time since March 2020

Canadian national team speed skater Heather McLean during a training session during one of the first ice time following the reopening of the Olympic Oval in Calgary, AB on July 27, 2020.

Credit: Dave Holland, CSI Calgary Photos

HEERENVEEN, NETHERLANDS – After a series of negative test results and a brief quarantine period, thirteen Canadian long track speed skaters have entered the “bubble” and are gearing up to compete in a pair of unique World Cup events later this month, the team’s first since the COVID-19 pandemic brought international competition to a halt last March.

While the 2020-2021 season may be condensed, the hub in Heerenveen will offer the world’s top skaters the much anticipated opportunity to compete against one another. The ISU World Cup circuit, which in a normal season consists of six events, will be contested over two events on January 22-24 and January 29-31. Skaters will then have one weekend off to rest and recuperate before hitting the ice again for the ISU World Speed Skating Championships from February 11-14.

With 31 medals on the World Cup circuit, last season was the Canadian national team’s most successful international campaign in over a decade. However, the focus over the next month will not be on podium performances, but more so on skaters to continue their preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.

It has been a difficult season for the entire high performance program, which has had limited access to long track ice after the Olympic Oval in Calgary closed its doors in September due to a mechanical issue. Aside from a two-week training camp in Fort St. John in November and recent sessions on the outdoor oval in Red Deer, skaters have been limited to dryland and short track training. They will look to utilize the valuable ice time in Heerenveen to regain their form, before lining up for their first races in over 10 months.

Leading the charge for Canada are veteran long distance skaters Ivanie Blondin (Ottawa, Ont.), Ted-Jan Bloemen (Calgary, Alta.), Jordan Belchos (Toronto, Ont.), Isabelle Weidemann (Ottawa, Ont.) and converted short track Olympian Valérie Maltais (Saguenay, Que.). They will be joined by Quebec-based sprint specialist Laurent Dubreuil (Lévis, Que.) and Alex Boisvert-Lacroix (Sherbrooke, Que.), along with Calgary-based sprinters Kaylin Irvine (Calgary, Alta.), Gilmore Junio (Calgary, Alta.) and Heather McLean (Winnipeg, Man.).

A trio of NextGen skaters – Abigail McCluskey (Penticton, B.C.), Béatrice Lamarche (Quebec City, Que.) and Connor Howe (Canmore, Alta.) – will also lace up the skates.

Given the inability to host domestic competitions in the fall, eligibility for this season’s international events was based on results and rankings from the 2019-2020 season. It was up to each athlete, coach and staff member to choose whether or not they wanted to participate in these competitions, based on their level of comfort and personal situation.

The full list of athletes who will compete at the two ISU World Cups in Heerenveen, along with the individual distances they have qualified for, can be found below:

  • Ivanie Blondin (Ottawa, Ont.): 1000m, 1500m, 3000m, Mass Start
  • Kaylin Irvine (Calgary, Alta.): 500m, 1000m
  • Béatrice Lamarche (Quebec City, Que.): 1000m
  • Valérie Maltais (Saguenay, Que.): 1500m, 3000m, Mass Start
  • Abigail McCluskey (Penticton, B.C.): 1500m, 3000m
  • Heather McLean (Winnipeg, Man.): 500m, 1000m
  • Isabelle Weidemann (Ottawa, Ont.): 1500m, 3000m
  • Jordan Belchos (Toronto, Ont.): 5000m, Mass Start
  • Ted-Jan Bloemen (Calgary, Alta.): 5000m
  • Alex Boisvert-Lacroix (Sherbrooke, Que.): 500m
  • Laurent Dubreuil (Lévis, Que.): 500m, 1000m
  • Connor Howe (Canmore, Alta.): 1000m, 1500m
  • Gilmore Junio (Calgary, Alta.): 500m

CBC Sports will have live streaming coverage of all competition days, as well blocks of televised coverage as part of their ‘Road to the Olympic Games’ program. Visit the schedule for broadcast and streaming times in your area.

About the ISU Hub
The International Skating Union (ISU) began exploring a hub concept this past summer – like the one employed by professional sports leagues such as the NHL, NBA and NWSL – after determining that it would be the safest way to host competitions. In November, the federation announced that Heerenveen, often referred to as the Mecca of speed skating, would host four competitions over a five week span.

The host organizing committee has developed strict health and safety protocols to keep participants safe. COVID-19 testing occurs before arrival, upon arrival and over the course of the competition period. Once a participant enters the bubble, they are restricted to their hotel and the competition venue. Athletes can venture outside for a bike ride, but they must ask for permission and cannot interact with anyone outside the competition bubble. Anyone who becomes symptomatic, along with their close contacts, would be required to isolate.

Canadian skaters arrived in the Netherlands on January 12 and, depending on their results, could remain in the competition bubble for up to five weeks.

“I’m very happy to finally be able to skate again after two months without touching the ice. I will have to adjust quickly, because the races are coming soon, but I think the work that I’ve put in since May will show up in my races. In terms of expectations, I did not come here to be an observer, I am aiming for the podium in my two distances!” – Laurent Dubreuil

“It feels super great to be skating indoors. The laps feel easy after having trained outdoors in Red Deer these past few weeks! I’m extremely grateful to have the chance to race over the next few weeks. Although I think I’m pretty far from being race ready, this will be a great opportunity to practice race prep and work on some in-race technique. My plan is to focus on getting the most out of the next couple of weeks and to take advantage of this valuable ice time.” – Isabelle Weidemann

“I’m very happy to be in this bubble and to have the opportunity to race this season. It’s a privilege and also excellent preparation for a pre-Olympic season, because there is nothing better than races to get you prepared. I am also aware that many young people in Quebec are not so lucky. But when normalcy returns, we will need Canadian athlete role models on the world stage to inspire young people to resume their activities.” – Alex Boisvert-Lacroix

Alain Brouillette
Speed Skating Canada

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