After 22 years of Short Track dedication, Canada’s Valerie Maltais has decided to take up a new challenge and race on the long track.
“I started out doing Figure Skating – but I wasn’t a dancer on ice, so I went into Short Track,” she says. “Now I’m going to do Long Track (Speed Skating). It’s like I’m covering the whole Skating Union!”
"I’m still in love with Short Track and I’ve seen the evolution of the sport. It is changing year after year, it is becoming bigger and that is very fun to see.”
“But I’ve always wanted to try Long Track and now seems the appropriate time to move on. I’m still young and in good shape, which is the best time to try a new sport. I want to put 100 percent of my energy into it. It’s something I feel I need to do, to make sure that I have no regrets in my career.”
Maltais began Short Track as a six-year-old in Saguenay, Canada, in 1996, and was immediately hooked. She has been a fixture in the senior Canada squad for a decade and has made it on to numerous podiums in that time.
Marie-Eve Drolet, Jessica Hewitt, Valerie Maltais and Marianne St.Gelais (CAN) at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games ©Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Her highlight reel would include finishing second in the overall competition at the 2012 World Championships in Shanghai, winning three World Cup gold medals (1000m at both the Montreal 2012 and Shanghai 2015 events and in the 3000m Relay at Dresden in 2015), seventh place in the 1000m at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games and an Olympic silver medal in 3000m Relay at the Sochi 2014 Games.
Watch the 3000m Relay Women's Final Short Track Speed Skating in Sochi 2014:
She is excited about the prospect of mastering a new discipline – but despite her undoubted speed on the ice, isn’t taking success for granted in the longer format.
“I always knew that Long Track was a very beautiful sport and by 2014 I’d made my mind up that I eventually wanted to do it,” she says. “But I decided back then that I still I still had some stuff I wanted to accomplish in Short Track before making a move."
“Now feels right, as these might be the last four years of my career. I feel ready and happy to keep going after those years in Short Track. I feel ready to move on and try something else."
“But, to be honest, Long Track will be something completely new for me. I’ve only skated four or five times on my Long Track blades, so I need to be humble. I’m going to a new sport to see what I can achieve."
“I am ambitious though. I’m going in to be as competitive as I can, to be able to compete at international level. But first I will need to work my way up and make the international team.
“It is a change and challenge, but I really enjoy that. I am going to try and we will see.”
Kim Along (KOR), Shim suk Hee (KOR) and Valerie Maltais (CAN) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating 2015
Maltais sees her racing experience as something that can benefit her as she moves forward. “Short Track and Long Track have some similarities. These two sports can support each other, for me.
“Mentally, Short Track has helped to make me strong. I feel that can be an advantage. I also know myself very well after the years of training. In Long Track, you train alone a little more, and it is based on what you are able to do, and what is best for you."
“So I think that I’ll have enough experience, and I know myself enough to trust myself, to be good at the right moment. I have confidence in myself, my ability, I have an idea of what I can do. If I’m doing something with a coach it’s not like I’m brand new to training."
“The training will be different with biking, inlining, on the ice, dry and land. I’m expecting a lot of changes but I’m excited by the challenge.”
The lack of hurly-burly on the ice will, of course, be the major difference when it comes to race day. “I’m excited about racing against myself,” says Maltais. “For sure, there is the other person in the other lane, but it’s about doing the best performance that I can, and beating the clock. That gives you freedom in Long Track."
“What makes me afraid is – will I miss Short Track? Will I miss racing against other people? And to learn a complete new thing – will I be sharp enough? I believe that I will, but of course there is a doubt there.”
One thing is certain, however: Maltais will be moving fast, whatever the competition, for a while yet. She even competed at the 2015 Pan American Games in inline skating. “That was fun,” she says. “I love competition. I love to race and I love the mood around a race. It’s great when you enter the performance zone and you feel like you want to be at your best.
“Going to inline was something I did to train and it’s something I’ll do to train again. Doing the Pan Am was really amazing.”
She will be watching every other form of skating, too. “Figure skating is a sport I still love to watch. And of course Short Track. I really appreciate the sport so much. I have done 22 seasons, which is a lot of time in my life. It’s been fantastic.”