Isabelle Weidemann has hit her stride, literally and figuratively, in long-track speedskating.
Currently ranked No. 1 in the world in women’s distance racing, the 23-year-old from Ottawa points to last February’s Winter Olympics as her defining moment of 2018.
Weidemann was sixth in the 5,000 metres and seventh in the 3,000 in her first Olympic Games. Those results did not satisfy her.
“I was really hoping to push the podium a little bit more,” Weidemann told The Canadian Press. “I was very far off the podium and that kind of stung.
“I was really motivated after the Olympics after not doing so well, or just falling short of attaining what I wanted. I was very motivated to change the way I was approaching training.
“I got a sense I was close and nothing drives anybody more than being just off the podium, or just being out of contention.”
Weidemann won a gold medal and a silver in the 3k, as well as a silver medal in the 5k, over the first four events of the 2018-19 World Cup season in November and December.
“I worked very hard towards it this year and really made it my goal to jump to the next level,” Weidemann said. “I’d been stuck at in that fourth, fifth, sixth place for awhile now. I was really driven to make that jump.
“After the Olympic season, a lot of women retire. There’s a good opportunity to make it on the world stage. People tend to take the year off and I wanted to take the opportunity to put myself out there.”
She trains at Calgary’s Olympic Oval alongside fellow Ottawan Ivanie Blondin, a two-time Olympian who owns multiple world championship and World Cup medals in the mass start, 3k and 5k.
The two women are physical contrasts as the six-foot-two Weidemann is a full foot taller than Blondin.
“She’s one of the best in the world at multiple distances, which is very, very hard to do,” Weidemann said. “I feel fortunate to train alongside her every day.
“She has really paved the path, or led me down the road on how to find success. We compete against each other, so there’s a lot of competitiveness between us, but there’s a lot of respect.”
Remmelt Eldering of the Netherlands took over as coach of the Canadian women’s long-distance training group this season.
“It took a little bit to get used to each other, but I kept my course,” Eldering said. “I didn’t really change anything and Isabelle eventually got the hang of it. I feel like she felt comfortable in the program and adopted it.
“The biggest thing is her self-confidence. It grew.”
Weidemann says the Dutchman is the eighth coach she’s had in her seven years on the national team. She hopes the coaching carousel will stop at least until the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.
“He’s looking to stay to the next Olympics so I’m looking forward to building a relationship,” she said. “It’s really important to have a relationship with your coach. It’s a business deal basically. He writes the program and I do the program and we have to work with each other.”
The second half of Weidemann’s season will include two more World Cups, the world single-distance championships Feb. 6-9 in Inzell, Germany, and the world all-around championships March 1-2 in Calgary.
“For me, ultimately the goal is building over these next four years so that I can go into the next Olympics as a legitimate contender and somebody who has a shot at medalling,” she said.
Weidemann, who will complete her geography degree in 2019, grew up idolizing world champion and Olympic multi-medallist Kristina Groves, who is also from Ottawa.
Weidemann is the oldest of three children all speed skating in Calgary. Brother Jake is a member of the national development team, while sister Lily skates in the Oval’s long-track program.
Weidemann is an alumnus of Ottawa’s Gloucester Concordes club, which also produced Blondin and Olympian Vincent de Haitre.
Concordes coach Mike Rivet said a few weeks prior to the 2018 Winter Games that Weidemann was “just starting to figure out the resources she has in her body and she doesn’t know how to use them yet. When she does, wow.”
It appears wow is now.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press