Canadian speedskater Ivanie Blondin back on track after Olympic disappointment

CALGARY — Ivanie Blondin is in a good place. She wants to stay there.

With the help of some four-legged friends, the devastation the speedskater felt after 2018 Winter Olympics is shrinking in her rearview mirror.

A career start to this World Cup season is validating her efforts. The 29-year-old from Ottawa has amassed 10 medals, including six gold.

Blondin won gold in five straight races — two mass starts and the 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 metres — in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, and Nagano, Japan, earlier this month.

The last Canadian woman to have that kind of success in multiple distances was Cindy Klassen from 2003 to 2007.

“Last year I was really struggling coming off the games and struggling from depression,” Blondin told The Canadian Press.

“Because of what I’ve been through, I’m a stronger athlete physically and mentally this season. I honestly felt the strongest I’ve ever felt on ice in training than I’ve felt in my entire life.

“Having a fresh mindset and having a head on my shoulders again and being able to go into races with a clear mind, gave me that extra boost of confidence I needed to show up with some strong results.”

Blondin crashed in the semifinal of the mass start, her signature race, at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

A world champion in the discipline, in which several skaters leave the start line at the same time and jockey for position over 16 laps, Blondin was gunning for Olympic gold.

She was also a medal contender in the 3,000 and 5,000 in Pyeongchang. Blondin finished just off the podium in fifth and sixth respectively.

“Leading up to Pyeongchang, I was a multiple medal threat in different distances,” Blondin said.

“I came home and there was devastation of ‘I suck. I’m not good enough.’ I just felt like I had failed.

“That downward spiralled me into severe depression and having to take medication for it, and migraines, not sleeping, being anxious about everything.”

Blondin earned a mass start silver medal at February’s world championships, she felt off her game last season.

“The individual distances, I just didn’t have the mental capacity to go out there and perform and be confident,” she recalled.

The athlete consulted with her doctor, who put her on a six-month program of medication, and a sport performance specialist.

But Blondin, who has always had an affinity for the furred and feathered, says fostering humane society animals for adoption was a balm to her mental health.

In addition to her own parrot Gizmo and St. Bernard Pyrenees mix Brook, Lilly and Moose are among the canines who have come through her Calgary home since the summer of 2018.

“I was helping these animals, but I was healing myself at the same time,” Blondin said. “I kept filling the house with more and more animals and it made me feel better.”

In her second season with Dutch coach Remmelt Eldering, the addition of males to Blondin’s Olympic Oval training group this fall made her work feel fresher.

Blondin, Ottawa’s Isabelle Weidemann and Valerie Maltais of Saguenay, Que., have won gold, silver and bronze in the women’s team pursuit so far this season.

“I’ve always really liked training with boys,” Blondin said. “Growing up, I always trained with the boys. Last year, one of my biggest struggles was being put in an all-female training group. I struggled a lot with that.

“This year, I accepted the fact that I was back in this training group, but they put boys in our training group, which is what we needed to go a little bit faster.

“I honestly think it made a big difference in our training and performance on ice.”

The second half of Blondin’s season includes racing on her home track Feb. 6-7 at a World Cup in Calgary, as well as the world single distance championships Feb. 12-15 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I just want to keep this going,” Blondin said. “It’s just confidence.

“If you believe you can do it, there’s greater chances of accomplishing it.”

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