Ivanie Blondin's mass start gold sets Canada apart in women's speed skating
'I don't know how I did it,' says Ottawa skater of world championship win
The weekend started off with a bad race and a scratch, but it it ended with a historic gold medal.
Looking back, Ottawa-born speed skater Ivanie Blondin still doesn't know how she did it.
"It's still sinking in," Blondin told CBC Sports of winning mass start gold on Feb. 14 — making Canada the first country to win gold in each of the seven women's events at the ISU World Single Distances Championships.
Now she's one of two skaters representing Canada at the world allround championships, which begin Saturday in Berlin (CBCSports.ca, 6:30 a.m. ET). There is no mass start, the races are individual and whoever wins gold will have to do well in all of them.
Odd training situation
"Honestly, I don't know how I did it because mentally I was still kind of a mess," Blondin said of her Valentine's Day victory.
Becoming a world champion was the payoff of a hard season for the 25-year-old. Blondin's training team fell apart earlier in 2015, when two of her training partners left the program. It left Blondin in unknown territory and affected her mental approach to competition.
"The feeling of not having that many teammates around you for that support is kind of a struggle and something I've never had to go through before," Blondin said. "I think physically I'm as strong as I was last season. But the mental side of sport, especially in speed skating, is probably 70 per cent of your performance.
I had a lot of moments this year where I was struggling mentally more than physically.- Ivanie Blondin
"It's been tough, but the support of people around me has made it that much easier to get through it. And I don't think I would have been crowned world champion without that."
Blondin's struggle and mastery over mental distractions both came into play at the single distances world championships, held in Kolomna, Russia, in mid-February. After finishing 17th in the women's 3,000-metre race, she pulled out of the 5,000 to focus on the mass start.
"I actually felt really good before the [3,000] started and then during the race everything just kind of fell apart," she said. "I wished it was a nightmare or something.
"I just felt like I had zero energy."
But heading into the mass start — the event in which she's most in her element — Blondin turned things around. The race included some elbowing, but instead of distracting her it actually drew her in.
"The pushing and shoving, as much as people think I probably hate it, I actually love it," she said. "It motivates me more and so as soon as the Dutch girl started pushing me and grabbing me, I was like 'I'm going to beat you.'"
Among the greats
After being unsure of her performances all season, Blondin can now count herself among the best in her sport.
"I didn't even know that we had all [gold medals] except for the mass start. It was kind of cool to read the article and be like 'wow, I'm kind of part of history right now,'" she said. "We have such a great field of women with Christine Nesbitt, and Clara Hughes, and Cindy Klassen, and all those women that came home with titles.
"It's pretty incredible to be a part of that, to even think that I'm one of those women now."
Blondin achieved her goal for this season by winning the mass start at the world championships. She already is looking beyond this weekend's allround championships in Berlin, where she'll race the 500, 1,500 and 3,000.
"My next step is definitely the Olympics," said Blondin. "Obviously it'd be nice to have a gold medal, but at the same time just being on the podium at the Olympics would be outstanding."