What to know for the long track speed skating world championships
Canadian medal contenders littered across multiple disciplines
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Canada's collection of long track speed skaters might be as strong as ever, with legit medal contenders across multiple disciplines.
They'll be put to the test at the world championships, which begin Thursday in the Netherlands. Live coverage of the event through Sunday will be available on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. Olympic speed skater Anastasia Bucsis and Signa Butler will be calling all of the action for the finals.
Here's everything you need to know:
Isabelle Weidemann, Ivanie Blondin and Valerie Maltais might form the most dominant team in Canada right now. The reigning Olympic team pursuit champions are unbeaten in three races this season, a feat they also achieved during the 2022 World Cup campaign. But another victory at worlds is far from guaranteed: the Netherlands placed second in the season-long standings with a pair of silvers, and Japan, which was third, crashed out of the Olympic final while holding a lead in the final lap.
Weidemann was Canada's flag-bearer at the closing ceremony in Beijing after collecting a medal of each colour. Now 27, the Ottawa native seemed prime for World Cup dominance. But it hasn't quite played out that way, at least in individual events, with Weidemann climbing just two podiums all season, in each of her first two races. Even still, a consistent season left Weidemann ranked second overall in long distances. In case you missed it, we covered Weidemann in yesterday's newsletter after she helped a younger speed skating Isabelle capture four medals at the Canada Games.
Blondin's best event is the chaotic mass start, in which she finished worse than sixth just once all season and wound up leading the overall standings. You'll likely see Blondin, who won mass-start silver at the Olympics, work alongside Maltais throughout the race, with the latter setting an early pace before the former makes her move in the final laps. Blondin and Maltais also placed fourth and sixth, respectively, in the overall long distance standings.
Internationally, Dutch skater Irene Schouten is one to watch. Schouten, 30, won four medals, including three gold, at the Olympics. But she's since admitted to mental and physical exhaustion stemming both from the buildup to Beijing and the attention she received after. Following a typically dominant start to the season, Schouten didn't lace up her skates at either World Cup event in 2023.
On the other hand, Quebec's Laurent Dubreuil has been careful to manage expectations throughout his career. After missing the Olympic 500m podium by 3/100ths of a second despite being a favourite in the distance, Dubreuil took a bigger-picture view: "I was happy in life yesterday and I didn't have an Olympic medal so the situation for me is the same." He maintained that perspective when he bounced back with silver in the 1,000m days later.
Dubreuil will compete in both distances at worlds, where he could line up next to good friend Yuma Murakami of Japan. The two trained together for seven weeks in Quebec over the summer, building on a bond that'd been paused due to the pandemic. "You can split my summer in two: before Yuma arrived it was bad and after it was good," Dubreuil said. Dubreuil and Murakami are ranked 1-2 in the 500m, while the Canadian is also second in the 1,000m.
Meanwhile, Connor Howe of Canmore, Alta., is the relatively new kid on the block at 22 and without an Olympic medal. But Howe ranks second in the 1,500m — known as "the king of races" — and he won gold at the Heerenveen track in November. His role at worlds will be that of spoiler as he competes against 18-year-old American wunderkind Jordan Stolz and two-time reigning Olympic champion Kjeld Nuis of the Netherlands.
Worlds will also be a homecoming of sorts for Canada's Ted-Jan Bloemen, the two-time Olympic medallist who at 36 appears to have lost a step or two and no longer poses a major podium threat. Bloemen originally competed for the Netherlands, where he was born, before switching allegiances to Canada to escape the heavy internal competition of his birth country.