Canada’s ladies started their international speed skating season with a big surprise at the first leg of the ISU World Cup in Heerenveen on Friday. Ivanie Blondin, Valérie Maltais and Isabelle Weidemann won their Team Pursuit, skating the second fastest time ever at Thialf Stadium in 2 minutes and 56.71 seconds. The Netherlands had to settle for silver on home ice in 2:57.04, while Norway followed more than two seconds later in third.
“We’re all very surprised for sure,” Weidemann said with a big smile after her team’s immaculate race. The North Americans had a lot of adversities to overcome in their run-up to the shortened 2020-2021 season. Like so many others around the globe, they were prevented from training together by Covid-19 measures in the summer and then mechanical troubles at the Calgary Olympic Oval delayed their return to the ice.
“Obviously we haven’t had a lot of time on the ice,” Weidemann said. “We did some training camps at different places, also on natural ice in Red Deer. It was freezing cold, but we were looking at every opportunity we had to put on our skates and get on the ice. But really, the most training we’ve done is the past week-and-a-half right here.”
Weidemann’s teammate Blondin agreed, after she also smoothly qualified for Saturday’s Mass Start final, coming second in the first semi-final heat on Friday. “I wasn’t expecting what happened today,” said Blondin. “It’s a big relief for all of us. We hadn’t raced together yet. We weren’t allowed to train together in the summer and due to the malfunction in Calgary we had no ice.”
Canada beat Netherlands and Norway to take top honours in Heerenveen © International Skating Union (ISU)
After much hesitation, Blondin decided to travel to Hungary in December to join husband and speed skater Konrad Nagy (HUN) to train in Europe. “We flew over on December 14 with our dog, because we don’t know how long we’re going to be in Europe. I trained with the Hungarian short-track team and also on the long-track rink at Inzell for a week-and-a-half.”
For Blondin, the Team Pursuit is this season’s main focus. “I’m not skating the 3000m and the 1500m at the World Cup,” she said. “I told the team that the Team Pursuit is my number one and the Mass Start number two. I just don’t feel ready for the other distances. I will skate a 1000m on Sunday, just to get the feeling of an individual race.”
Ireen Wüst was satisfied to help Netherlands to silver behind the Canadian surprise. “I think we did well,” the Dutch anchor said. “It was the first time we skated in this particular line-up.”
Netherlands' Ireen Wüst, Carlijn Achtereekte and Melissa Wijfje had to settle for second place © International Skating Union (ISU)
Wüst was joined by Carlijn Achtereekte and Melissa Wijfje. “It’s a pity we didn’t win, I think we could have,” she said. “We were pretty close, we set a good time, which says a lot about [the ice conditions in] Thialf and about ourselves.”
Japan has been almost unbeatable over the past few years in the ladies' Team Pursuit, but Wüst thinks that the Dutch ladies are able to get to at least a similar level.
“Japan is not here, so we don’t know what they would have done, but we look at our own route. Competition is the best training and the World Cup races are good opportunities to try different things, it’s not the Olympics. Next week I’ll skate with Antoinette [de Jong] and Irene Schouten. I really like the Team Pursuit and if we put in a little more effort, I think we could win Olympic gold.”
Where to Watch
Viewers will be able to watch the ISU Speed Skating competitions that will take place within the hub either via their national broadcaster / channel and for countries where there are no broadcasters, the ISU will offer a live stream on the Skating ISU YouTube Channel.
All the information is available in the Where to Watch which will be updated after each competition. The individual announcements and entry lists will be published under the respective events as soon as they are available. For further information regarding the ISU Speed Skating Hub please visit: https://www.isu.org/heerenveen2021.
Subscribe to the ISU Newsletter to receive the latest information from the ISU and you can also subscribe to the Skating ISU YouTube Channel to receive notifications when live streams or new videos are published.
Highlights, clips, interviews, behind the scenes:
YouTube: ISU Skating
Follow the conversation with #SpeedSkating