A close-season trip to the Netherlands has given Canada’s Kim Boutin back her Short Track Speed Skating mojo, and may provide the impetus she needs to turn top-level silver into gold.
Boutin - who finished first ahead of world champion Suzanne Schulting in the women’s 1500m on Saturday as the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating season got underway in Salt Lake City, USA - admits she was craving a change of scene over the northern summer and was questioning whether she had fallen out of love with the sport that has consumed her since the age of six.
“I wasn’t really enjoying my time at home,” the 24-year-old reveals. “I told my coach I needed something new, to have more fun and see if I still enjoyed Short Track Speed Skating.
“It was really refreshing. My team changed a lot since the [PyeongChang 2018] Olympic Games, and I needed to change my approach and my mindset to continue towards the next Olympics.”
Boutin has three Olympic and six world championships medals to her credit, including two silvers, but has yet to top the podium at the very highest level. She says her brief stint in northern Europe helped dispel her doubts as she looks forward to the new season, and ultimately to Beijing 2022.
Kim Boutin (CAN) at the Olympic Winter Games 2018©Getty Images
“Of course I still love Short Track,” she says. “I’m lucky to be part of something that not a lot of people can do.
“It was more about my mindset, challenging myself to become a better athlete. Sometimes you need to challenge yourself to not stay at the level you are.
“When you’re really focused on performance and being perfect every race, it’s hard to have fun.
“In Short Track every day you have something to learn, something to work on to be a better athlete and a better person. If I continue to learn, I’m still going to be a Short Track Speed Skater.”
Boutin (centre) tops the Salt Lake podium alongside Schulting (left, silver) and China's Han Yutong (right, bronze) ©International Skating Union (ISU)
That fresh look at her sport has clearly paid dividends. In September, Boutin won the Ladies’ 500m, 1000m and 1500m at the Canadian Short Track Speed Skating Championships and she came to Salt Lake City for the first ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating competition of the season in buoyant mood.
That mood was only heightened by her 1500m victory on Saturday over Dutch superstar Schulting, the reigning Olympic and world champion.
Asked if 2020 could be the year for a first global gold medal, the Canadian skater says: “It’s always a goal. I’ve worked a lot on the tools I need to be a world champion.
“[But] I’m not really a results person, I’m not focused on that. I want to go step by step. Every time I jump on the ice I want to win, I’m not going to hold back.”