By Brianne Smith
Vincent De Haître’s Olympic dreams are coming true for the second time. After taking gold in the 1000 and 1500 metre races at the national qualifying rounds, the 23-year-old Cumberland, Ontario native will represent Canada on the world stage this February in Pyeongchang.
In 2014, De Haître made his Olympic debut as the youngest Canadian speed skater at the Games. However, it’s this past season that’s been a personal best for the long-track athlete as he broke a world record in the team sprint event, captured a silver medal at the ISU World Sprint Championships and became the first Canadian speed skater to come in under the 1:07.00 mark in the 1000 m event—a childhood dream for him.
“[This year] has been pretty awesome I’ve got to say, I’m really happy with it looking back. I definitely made some pretty big steps toward where I want to be,” De Haître outlined. “I kept just thinking, I can do it, I can do it, and then I did.”
The speed-skater is currently ranked in the top 10 for both the 1000 m and 1500 m races, and he knows he’ll have to be at his peak against the world’s best in South Korea.
“For me I think it’s the expectation I put on myself that’s the hardest to deal with,” De Haître said. “I’m okay losing as long as I had a great race. But if I perform subpar and I lose, what the hell am I doing. For me the motivation comes from knowing that I can, but wanting to go out and prove it to myself.”
For the past four years De Haître has been training with the Canadian national long-track coach, Bart Schouten. A coach for 33 years, Schouten is in his eighth year coaching the Canadian national team. He says in the years he’s known De Haître, he’s seen him progress not just physically, but mentally.
“Physically he’s very strong,” Schouten said. “He knows those dates in Korea he needs to skate and be his best and he will be there to perform, he deals very well with pressure and is really good at bringing his best race when he needs it most.”
De Haître’s racing-instincts date back to a passion for speed sports that he developed in his childhood.
“Vince was always an active boy,” his mother, Lucille De Haître, said. “If there was something to do he wouldn’t stay inside and watch TV he would go out and create his own little obstacle course and find ways to be active.”
As a child he enrolled in the Nancy Green Ski Program and as a teen, he took up BMX riding, competing in various local competitions.
De Haître credits his speed skating start to his childhood neighbour who took him to the rink for the first time at the age of six. The feel of the rapid speed on the ice had him hooked.
“My neighbour noticed that I really liked skating and he told my parents about speed skating. My family didn’t really know anything about it, so we looked it up online and found Canada’s largest speed skating program which essentially is the Timbits Hockey of speed skating,” De Haître said.
Though rewarding for De Haître, it’s been a long and difficult journey to make it to where he is today. In Calgary – the home to Canada’s elite instruction facilities for the sport – he trains at least 5 days a week, with an average day for him consisting of two workout sessions combining for anywhere from four to seven or more hours of training.
Though he now finds himself at his best physically, his success hasn’t been without its setbacks. De Haître is typically at competitions 15 weeks of the year. The gruelling training sessions and a bad back injury that took him out of the world cup tour in Norway during his 2014/2015 season, are a few of the difficulties the young athlete has endured.
“This summer felt particularly long for me. We just did so much bike training that I just felt like losing myself in all [of it],” De Haître said.
De Haître was introduced to track cycling as a way to increase his endurance on the speed skating track. Since his start in track cycling eight years ago, he has competed in international championships around the world like the Commonwealth Games in Scotland and the Pan Am Championships in Mexico where he set a Canadian record in the kilo during the 2014-2015 season.
For mother Lucille De Haître, it’s been exhilarating and stressful watching her son grow into a world-class athlete. Though her youngest son has not been able to come home for Christmas in six years, she said the encouragement they show each other as a family is enough.
“I think together as a family we are united,” she said. “We just watch out for one another and I think that’s what makes it easier for us to support him.”
De Haître credits his past cycling coach Don Moxley with teaching him the principles of training and says Moxley is a big part of why he became as successful as he is in speed skating.
“Speed skating and track cycling are very similar,” Moxley, the 2016 Ottawa Sports Awards Brian Kilrea Lifetime Achievement in Coaching award recipient, explained. “The two disciplines have complimented each other for quite a while… some coaches like to control the athletes, but my approach was we should be teaching self-sufficiency to a certain extent, the ones I was developing I’d try to set them up to do that.”
As De Haître gears up for his races in South Korea he keeps in mind what he learned from the last Winter Games four years ago.
“The last Olympics was a time management and energy management experience for me. Going into [it] I was as much of a rookie as you could possibly be, so I just had to take that and learn from it as much as possible…what I learned was you can’t do everything you want, you have to remember that you’re there to compete.”
Schouten feels confident in De Haître’s abilities going into the games and says the athlete is at his strongest. “I think Vince will really bring what he can and what he has, and we can’t control what other skaters do, but I think if Vince brings the best he can then he has a legitimate shot at a medal in the 1000 and 1500m.”
For the athlete, he chooses to focus on one race at a time. “I just visualize those first few steps I have to take, and try being explosive. It’s a mix of visualization and relaxation… I know I can step out on the ice and truly perform against the best and be one of them.”