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Mass start race the right fit for Canadian speedskater Ivanie Blondin

12/30/2014 05:58 EST | Updated 03/01/2015 05:59 EST
CALGARY - Ivanie Blondin was built for speedskating's mass start race that could make its Winter Olympic debut in 2018.

The 24-year-old from Ottawa has won four World Cup medals in as many races this season, including two gold. Blondin leads the overall standings for the women's World Cup mass start.

Her short-track speedskating background gives her the tools to jostle for position among the 23 other skaters all leaving the start line at the same time.

Blondin also has the endurance to race the 16 laps — over six kilometres — and finish strong. She won a World Cup bronze in the 5,000 metres Nov. 23 in Seoul, South Korea. Blondin finished fourth in a 3,000 on Dec. 13 in Heerenveen, Netherlands.

Men's and women's mass start races will be on the menu at the world single distance championships Feb. 12-15 in Heerenveen.

The International Skating Union has asked the International Olympic Committee to include a men's and women's mass start in the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The IOC's executive board will meet in April to approve the 2018 program.

If mass start races get the green light for 2018, that's good news for Blondin.

"It's for sure my main event," she said Tuesday at the Olympic Oval.

"It's great. It's a little nerve-wracking too because it's like 'oh my god, it's real and I actually have a shot, a real good shot at getting an Olympic medal for my country at the next Olympics.' It's a little scary and a little frightening, but I'm excited more than anything too."

Blondin started short-track speedskating at age 14, but switched to long-track at 20. Skaters race against each other in pairs in long-track, but they generally don't come in contact with each other. They're more concerned with the clock and their coaches barking out split times.

The mass start in long-track incorporates some of the elbows-up contact of short-track races, as well as the cat-and-mouse strategy of passing competitors at the right time in the race.

"My comfort level skating in a group of girls or a pack is a lot higher than most of the girls who are out there," Blondin said.

"Coming from short-track, especially in Canada, it was such a competitive sport when I was younger that I know how to get around people, I know how to make room for myself, I know how to push people and stay on my feet and I know how to get pushed too."

The inner warm-up lane is part of the race track for the mass start. According to the rules, if a crash occurs on the first lap involving six or more skaters, the race will be stopped and re-started immediately.

Points are awarded for three intermediate sprints during the race and the final sprint to the finish, but the points are weighted so first, second and third over the finish line earn the medals.

As a long-distance specialist, Blondin doesn't chase intermediate sprint points. She paces herself to be in good position and have enough in the tank for the final dash.

"I'm always going for the podium," she said. "That's pretty much my tactic."

Blondin has returned to Calgary and her training base at the Oval for the holidays and also for the Canadian single distance championships starting Friday. She intends to race the women's mass start Monday at the Oval.

The next World Cup races are Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 in Hamar, Norway. Blondin's strategy in World Cup mass start races are to draft behind the top skaters and make her move towards the end of the race.

"It's all about position, being smart and saving your energy for the last little bit," Blondin said.

In an effort to become a stronger all-around skater and contend in the 1,000 and 1,500 metres, Blondin says she's worked on sprint speed this winter. That in turn has given her the power boost to pass other skaters during the mass start.

"I think training more for all-around and having the variety of being a little bit 'sprintier' with the long distance is a great combination for that specific of an event," Blondin said.

She has no shortage of challengers in the mass start. Irene Schouten of the Netherlands edged Blondin for gold Dec. 7 in Berlin, Germany.

Many of the South Korean women also have a short-track background. They'll pull out all the stops to win a medal on home ice in 2018.

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