Canada's speed skaters strive to live up to Olympic legacy
National long track World Cup trials begin Thursday in Calgary
CALGARY — High above the Olympic Oval on the University of Calgary campus, there are constant reminders of the success achieved by Canadian long track speed skaters.
Larger-than-life banners displaying the names and photos of Olympic greats like Catriona Le May Doan, Clara Hughes, Kevin Crockett, Jeremy Wotherspoon and Susan Auch peer down on the present-day skaters.
"We don't talk about it all the time, but we do want to live up to the legacy put before us," Michael Crowe said. "We hope we can live it every day. Just walking in this building helps that, and seeing the stuff up there. It's not so subtle."
Crowe, from Butte, Montana, took over as head coach of Canada's long track team in 2015 after many years coaching in the U.S., including five Olympic Games.
"There's nothing better then letting athletes be themselves and do what they can do," he said. "As a coach those are the moments you remember more. That moment when you see the shift. I remember that more than the medals."
Now, Crowe and the speed skating coaching staff are focused on assembling a team that can reach the podium in Pyeongchang in Febuary. That pursuit hits a different level this weekend in Calgary at the national team trials for the World Cup season.
Canada's men and women skaters will look to not only lock down individual spots on the World Cup roster, they'll also be looking to cement their places on the Olympic team as well, though the team going to Pyeongchang won't be determined until January.
"There are no excuses," said sprint coach Kevin Crockett. "It's going to be on the athletes to perform and we know where they should be at."
Crockett, who changed his last name from Overland to honour his deceased grandfather, knows what it takes to compete at the highest level. He won an Olympic bronze medal in the 500 metres in 1998 in Nagano. He says this weekend's event will go a long way in letting the coaches know who's bringing their best to the Olympic season.
"We know the pecking order of who should qualify and this will tell us a lot," he said. "We're going to learn a lot from these races and a lot of the skaters should be around personal bests."
This weekend's selection trials will put skaters on the roster to compete at the four ISU World Cups prior to Pyeongchang. For the first two, beginning in the Netherlands Nov. 10-12, Canada will send a team of the maximum 20 skaters.
"Best-case scenario: I think right now the girls and Will have a good shot," Crockett said.
He's talking about, and making sure others are aware of, the podium potential of Winnipeg's Heather McLean, and Saskatchewan's Marsha Hudey and Will Dutton.
"I won't say outright I'm expecting medals from them, but I think they can bring home some hardware from the Olympics."
"A champion is created through hard work every day," said long track coach Bart Schouten. "And then peaking is an important part of this. This will be my fifth Olympics and I've had them medal at every Games. I think I'm pretty good at that."
Schouten is bursting with confidence right now as his skaters head into this weekend. And he has reason to be excited about what could happen at the Games based on how last season ended and how this season started.
Last year, at the Pyeongchang venue that will be used for the Olympics, Canadians won two medals and some other strong finishes. Vincent De Haitre from Cumberland, Ont., won silver in the 1,000 and was fourth in the 1,500, Ottawa's Ivanie Blondin won bronze in the 5,000 and was fourth in the 3,000, and Calgary's Ted-Jan Bloemen finished fourth in the 10,000 and fifth in the 5,000.
This year started with Blomen breaking the Canadian men's record in the 5,000.
There's also three-time Olympian and four-time medal winner Denny Morrison, who is looking to get back to his fourth Games after being seriously hurt in a motorcycle accident and then suffering a stroke. He started the season with a personal-best time in the 3,000.
"I just think it's critical the athletes don't get too happy and too content," Schouten said. "Remain humble and keep working hard. We can't let them be satisfied with where they're at right now. That's my job and their job. But if they don't, I'll be on them."