The world’s best speed skaters in Canada are calling Calgary home this weekend as the third stop of the 2017-18 International Skating Union World Cup is taking place at the Olympic Oval. The World Cup season has added importance this year because it is a prelude to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang.
Among Canada’s best are long distance skaters Ted-Jan Bloemen of Calgary, Alberta and Ivanie Blondin of Ottawa, Ontario. Bloemen is the current world record holder in the men’s 10000m, while Blondin is the 2016 world champion in the women’s mass start. Bloemen is a serious Olympic medal contender for Canada in the men’s 5000m and 10000m, while Blondin will contend in the women’s 3000m, 5000m and mass start. Both Bloemen and Blondin are expected to be part of the Canadian Olympic team in the team pursuit as well.
Bloemen has got off to a blistering start to the World Cup season. He has been in three World Cup individual races and has won three silver medals. Last month in Europe, he placed second in a 5000m race in Heerenveen, Netherlands and then second in a 10000m race in Stavanger, Norway. Then on Friday, Bloemen placed second in a 5000m World Cup race in Calgary.
Finishing second has not been the only common denominator for Bloemen so far this year. In all of his individual races, he has placed behind Netherlands superstar Sven Kramer, a three-time Olympic gold medalist. However there is no doubt that Kramer will be extremely hungry heading into Pyeongchang, because he has not yet won the gold medal in the men’s 10000m.
Bloemen has Dutch heritage himself. A native of Leiderdorp, Netherlands, Bloemen was able to represent Canada internationally because his father is from Bathurst, New Brunswick. He has held Canadian citizenship since 2014.
Even though the 31 year-old has landed on the podium frequently this year, he knows there is one international competition that means more than all the others.
“These aren’t the races that really count,” explains Bloemen. “There’s only one race that really counts and that’s the race at the Olympics. I really hope to be on the top podium then.”
Bloemen has a great deal of respect for Kramer and knows he is the man to catch if he hopes to win Olympic gold.
“He is very special,” says Bloemen. “He has been so good for a decade now. He is so super consistent and wins everything. That is something we can all learn from, and is something I highly respect.”
On Friday, Bloemen took the lead on Kramer at the 2200m mark, but was passed by him just after the 3400 mark split times were posted. Kramer finished with a time of 6:07.04. Bloemen’s time was 6:08.54 and Patrick Beckert of Germany won the bronze medal with a time of 6:10.80.
As for Blondin, she did not meet the expectations on Friday. Her time of 4:04.15 was ironically one-one hundredth of a second faster than her bronze medal time in the women’s 3000m in Heerenveen last month, but one must remember that with the altitude in Calgary, skaters frequently skate faster in southern Alberta than the Netherlands.
Blondin seemed sluggish throughout the event and only came away with a tenth place finish. When asked to evaluate her performance, Blondin explained she is coming back after a sinus infection she recently caught upon returning from Europe to begin the World Cup speed skating season.
“I didn’t have as much energy as I planned on having today,” she claimed. “It’s frustrating, but it’s not a good representation of what I am capable of doing. It was one off race in so many races I have done this year.”
Prior to Friday, Blondin had an excellent start to the season. In addition to her bronze medal in the women’s 3000m in the Netherlands, Blondin also won a silver medal in the women’s mass start and a bronze in the women’s team pursuit. Then the following week in Norway, Blondin won the silver medal in the women’s 5000m.
Friday’s women’s 3000m winner was Miho Takagi, who posted a winning time of 3:57.09 and in the process, set a Japanese record. The Netherlands finished second and third. Antoinette de Jong had a time of 3:57.78 and Ireen Wust won the bronze medal with a time of 3:58.10.
For Blondin and Bloemen, they have a similarity with their approach leading into the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang. They are focused on the process and the day-to-day preparations rather than the Olympic Games itself, which could be compared to the final exam for many elite high performance athletes.
“I try not to focus too much on the future,” says Blondin. “For me, I try not to think too much of the future. It is an Olympic season. The big mistake that I made prior to Sochi, is that I focused too much on the Olympics…rather than being in the present.”
However Blondin and Bloemen are not the only Canadian speed skaters who are medal contenders for Canada in long track speed skating. Other contenders include Laurent Dubreuil of Levis, Quebec, who has won a gold medal for Canada in a men’s 500m World Cup in the Nertherlands, Vincent De Haitre of Ottawa, who won the silver medal in the men’s 1000m at the 2017 World Speed Skating Championships and ranked second in the men’s 1000m last year in World Cup, Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Quebec, who won a bronze medal in the men’s mass start at the 2017 World Speed Skating Championships and Marsha Hudey of White City, Saskatchewan, who won her first World Cup medal by winning silver in the women’s 500m last month in Norway.
Canada did strike gold on Friday in the men’s team sprint. However unlike the team pursuit (where Canada will be Olympic contenders as well), the sprint does not have full Olympic status. The Olympic speed skating competition in Pyeongchang will take place from February 10-24, 2018.