Kim Boutin thought about retiring, but she's back — and skating faster than ever

With three Olympic medals in her trophy case, the speed skater was considering retirement. But she decided to keep training and is now setting world records.

World record-setting speed skater says the pressure to live up to her 2018 performance weighs on her heavily

Speed skater Kim Boutin debated taking time off, or even retiring, but instead, spent the summer training in the Netherlands. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

This spring, as Kim Boutin watched her 2018 Olympic teammate, Samuel Girard, announce his retirement, her mind started racing. 

"I was mad," Boutin says. "Not because of his decision, but because I came to question myself." 

Girard was only 22 when he retired in May, and he was coming off a gold medal-winning performance only 14 months earlier at the Olympics in South Korea. 

He said that he was satisfied with what he had accomplished in speed skating and was ready to move on to other things. 

It was a bold move for a champion who was just entering his physical prime.

Boutin, two years older than Girard at 24, was rattled. She began to doubt her own motivation to carry on skating.

"It's normal to have other goals, and for myself, I feel sometimes that I want to be more with my family, or that I want to do something else with my life," Boutin says.

"I needed to reconnect with myself. Did I want to continue speed skating? Did I have something more to [accomplish]?" 

After all, Boutin already has three Olympic medals in her own trophy case, and she's acutely aware of how much work she needs to do to win another one. 

Boutin already has three Olympic medals in her trophy case, and she's acutely aware of how much work she needs to do to win another one. 2:39

She admits it can be overwhelming. 

"What is most difficult for me is that I know what it takes to get to the top," Boutin says. 

"Right now, I feel like I need to do everything to perfection, and it's a bit too much, and I need to find a balance."  

Trip to Netherlands gives Boutin a fresh outlook

It was Boutin's coach, Frédéric Blackburn, who stepped in and walked her back from the edge of retirement. 

All options were on the table — including taking a year away from the sport — but eventually the pair settled on a plan to spend the summer training in the Netherlands. 

"I just need to change my routine," Boutin says. "It was a hard thing losing my teammate [Samuel Girard], and I wanted to know what the goals are for people who are the best in other countries. What are they doing to challenge themselves?"

The trip worked to re-energize Boutin, who comes from Sherbrooke, Que. 

She learned a lot about her sport and herself while training with the Dutch athletes. 

She says she also took time to finally enjoy travelling.

In the past, she always found the process of leaving home stressful and uncomfortable. 

Canada's Kim Boutin set a new short track world record in the women's 500 metres in Salt Lake City, Utah on Sunday. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

She didn't like not having control over her own schedule — and instead of being on the road, she would have preferred to just to be home with her boyfriend and family. 

However, this summer she was deliberate in carving out free time to do some sightseeing and enjoy herself away from the rink. 

It opened her eyes to the fact that there is more to travel than just the grind of competition. 

Boutin says she returned to Montreal with a fresh outlook both on and off the ice. 

Refreshed and fast

Boutin was aware that she needed to fix her mindset if she was going to become a world champion in 2019-20, and it appears her work this summer is already paying dividends. 

She began her season like a shot out of a cannon by setting a new world record time — 41.936 seconds — in the women's 500-metre competition, and she won gold in the women's 1,500-metre short track competition in the season-opening event in Salt Lake City.

"I'm the first woman to skate the 500 in under 42 seconds, and that makes me incredibly happy," Boutin said after her win. 

Kim Boutin, centre, and Pascal Dion, left, with Charles Hamelin, right, show off their Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic Winter medals with fellow teammates in February of 2018. (File/The Canadian Press)

She thinks she's more ready than ever to embrace the pressure of competing this week in Montreal.

"Every time I'm skating here, even if I'm completely dead like last year after the Olympics, we always find the energy," Boutin says. 

And while retirement might have passed through her head a few months ago, now all she's thinking about is staying healthy and once again proudly representing Canada at the next Olympic games in 2022. 

The ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating in Montreal runs from Friday, Nov. 8 until Sunday, Nov. 10, at the Maurice Richard Arena. 

About the Author

Douglas Gelevan, a national award-winning sports journalist, has been a member of the CBC team since 2010. He is currently the sports journalist for CBC News Montreal.


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