She was once the third of Ottawa’s trio of oval stars; Now Isabelle Weidemann is taking off
–By Charlie Pinkerton
As a long-distance speedskater Isabelle Weidemann doesn’t need to rely on a hot start, but that’s exactly how she began this season.
The 23-year-old won 1st place at the second World Cup of the season held in Tomakomai, Japan in November. It was Weidemann’s first individual gold medal on the senior international circuit and she did it by setting a new track record along the way. The Ottawa-native and former Gloucester Concorde broke the Tomakomai Highland Sports Center 3000 metre record with a time of 4:10.2, which was almost three seconds ahead of her closest competitor.
Just two weeks later she won a silver medal in the 5000 metre at the second World Cup of the season.
Speaking to the Sportspage about two weeks before her breakthrough performance, Weidemann gave the impression that she knew this season was going to be special – something her former coach Mike Rivet knew years ago.
Rivet, a legendary speedskating coach in his own right, recalled a conversation he and Weidemann had over a cup of coffee just before she relocated to Calgary to train with Canada’s national team a few years ago.
“We were talking about Martina Sablikova, who was the queen of long-distance skating, and I told (Weidemann) it will just be another couple of years – 2017 or 2018 – then you’ll be kicking her off the podium,” Rivet said.
That prediction came true in Japan, where it was the multi-Olympic medal winner Sablikova who finished just less than three seconds behind Weidemann
Helping Weidemann to new heights this year is her new coach, Remmelt Eldering, who the skater said has introduced a quality-over-quantity approach to her training regime this year.
Eldering is native of the Netherlands and coached Dutch speedskater Esmee Visser to a gold medal in the 5000 metre at the 2018 Winter Olympics. He and Weidemann have worked together since June. She’s experienced a revolving door of coaches of sorts since departing Ottawa and with Eldering (like with any coach, she explained) there was a period of adjustment during which they had to build trust in one another. Weidemann, an excellent technical skater, as Rivet says, teams up with Eldering at a time when she’s trying to become “more purposeful” with her training.
“That was a big theme of my summer. I wanted to know what I really wanted to get out of practice,” Weidemann explained. “To not just bike, for the sake of biking, or do laps for the sake of doing laps of the oval ¬– but to really focus on every little aspect, every practice.”
That desire is something she’s picked up from her international-level teammates, who she said having the opportunity to train with every day is an “eye-opener.”
“They don’t just train for the sake of being fit. … Every second is dialed in and they know what they want to get out of every exercise,” Weidemann said. “That’s been a really big shift for me as an athlete and one I’ve been working on with Remmelt.”
One teammate she’s been working with more often this season is fellow Ottawa-native Ivanie Blondin. Blondin, who’s five years older than Weidemann, has been one of Canada’s best international competitors since even before her younger teammate began racing in the international senior circuit in 2015. Despite both skating for Canada since then, the two have trained side-by-side very sparingly until now.
In past years Blondin trained with Canada’s elite level men’s skaters, while Weidemann did a separate, lighter program.
For the first time this year, Blondin and Weidemann have been training together daily under the same coaching staff, doing similar training routines.
“We push each other a lot and I think I’d be lying if I said we didn’t compare ourselves to each other often” Weidemann said. “It is a nice kind of measure – against each other. She represents one of the best in the world.
To see what she does and see how she does it year-after-year has been a big motivator for me and a big influence.”
Ahead of the start of the World Cup season, Weidemann won three gold medals at the Canadian Single Distance Championships for speed skating. She said it was “nice to start off close” to where she ended last season.
Last year didn’t go exactly as planned for Weidemann. Though she did make her Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, a pre-determined temporary coaching fixture combined with a poorly timed sick-spell at the end of her competition year meant she wasn’t able to make the leap she had hoped by the end of the season.
Now she’s already achieved what she told the Ottawa Sportspage was her goal for this season: making the podium internationally.
“I’m excited to see where this season takes me for sure,” she said.
Through three World Cup events, Weidemann was ranked 2nd among women’s long-distance speedskaters in the International Skating Union World Cup circuit, trailing only Visser. Blondin was 5th thanks to a bronze medal in the mass start and a collection of other top finishes. Weidemann and Blondin have also teamed with Keri Morrison, another skater with Ottawa ties, to claim two World Cup podium finishes in the ladies’ team pursuit.
Weidemann’s younger brother, Jake, is skating in the Junior World Cup circuit this year. He won a gold medal in the men’s 3000 metre and a bronze in the men’s 1500 metre at his first event of the season.
Mont Ste. Marie slalom skier Dustin Cook told the Sportspage he’s aiming for a 10 Super G ranking by the season’s end. He was ranked 19th at the time of publishing.
Ottawa curler John Morris will be competing with Kaitlyn Lawes, his Olympic gold medal partner from last year, in the World Mixed Doubles Curling Tour this year. At the time of publishing they were ranked 16th in the world.