SPORTS

Racing with the boys gives Ottawa speedskater Ivanie Blondin a boost

10/20/2013 08:23 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
CALGARY - Ivanie Blondin is skating against men every day, which she feels makes her faster against women.

The Ottawa speedskater won both the women's 3,000 metres and 5,000 metres at Canadian trials that concluded Sunday at Calgary's Olympic Oval.

She'll represent Canada at World Cups this fall and the first is Nov. 8-10 on her home track in Calgary. The 23-year-old also has an eye on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Blondin is part of a long-distance training group formed this season under coach Mark Wild. As the only female distance specialist on the national team, Blondin pits herself daily against five men.

"It pushes me to a level I don't think I'd be able to push myself to on my own," she said. "I think it's a great opportunity, especially this year being an Olympic year, being able to train that hard.

"Everything just seems to be coming along really well this year. They just push me harder and I'm training well every day, which means in the end, I'm going to be a stronger skater."

The top five skaters in each distance at trials qualified for the World Cup circuit, except for the men's 5,000 and 10,000 in which just the top three earned the right to race.

Blondin posted a time of seven minutes 12.65 seconds to win Sunday's five-kilometre race. She was almost five seconds faster than runner-up Nicole Garrido of Edmonton.

Josie Spence of Kamloops, B.C., Winnipeg's Brittany Schussler and Ottawa's Lauren McGuire finished third to fifth respectively. Schussler skated her fourth distance in as many days and also qualified for the Canadian team in the 3,000, 1,500 and 1,000 metres.

Toronto's Jordan Belchos won the men's 10,000 metres in 13 minutes 40.33 seconds. Saskatoon's Lucas Makowsky and Alec Janssens of Chilliwack, B.C., were second and third respectively.

Belchos and Janssens are in Blondin's daily training group at the Oval.

"Some days are pretty funny because I give them a run for their money," Blondin said. "I grew up with my older brother four years older. I always wanted to try to beat him obviously."

Her coach believes the male training environment has honed Blondin's skating skills.

"It's really elevated her quality of training," Wild said. "Her technique in training is improved. She's become more efficient because she's training faster lap times than she normally would."

Olympic 1,000-metre champion Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., leads the long-track team into the 2013-14 season.

"Looking at the World Cups specifically, we're just looking at getting prepared for Sochi," said Sean Ireland, long-track director for Speed Skating Canada.

"Our top skaters, we hope they're podium performing or top five in terms of athletes that have medal potential, individual as well as team pursuit."

Based on results the past three seasons, the long-track team is projected to win three or four medals in Sochi, but Ireland says "our objectives are higher than that."

Former world champion Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., didn't race the 1,000 or 1,500 metres at trials because of a rib injury. He's asked for an injury bye onto the World Cup team.

Winnipeg's Cindy Klassen, winner of five medals at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, did not compete because of a concussion and did not ask for a bye, Ireland said.

Spence, McGuire, Winnipeg's Heather McLean, Regina's Marsha Hudey, Vincent De Haitre of Cumberland, Ont., and Alexandre St. Jean of Quebec City will make their World Cup debuts for Canada.

Nesbitt, Schussler, Regina's Kali Christ and Blondin make up the women's pursuit team that finished on the World Cup podium in four races last season.

Morrison, Makowsky and Mathieu Giroux of Pointe-aux-Trembles, Que., won Olympic gold in 2010 in men's pursuit and they will be joined by Belchos this season.

Blondin competed at both the short-track and long-track speedskating Olympic trials prior to the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

She didn't make either Canadian team, so Blondin moved to Calgary in 2010 to put all her energy into long track.

Blondin skated with a pink cord tied around her waist during trials. On straightaways, she glides with both arms behind her back and the cord gave her something to hold to keep her arms still.

"A lot of Dutch girls do it and international girls," she said. "I don't know why I thought about doing it for this weekend, but it seemed to help me a lot."

"I feel like sometimes when I get tired, technique obviously breaks down and it's hard to keep (your arms) up there sometimes. Having the cable there locks it in and it helps me."

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