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Canadian speedskater Ivanie Blondin embraces beefy race schedule

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Canada's Ivanie Blondin skates during the women's 3000-metre competition at the ISU World Cup speed skating event in Calgary, Alta., Friday, Dec. 9, 2022.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — Ivanie Blondin relishes a heavy workload.

The 32-year-old speedskater from Ottawa will compete in six races in three days by the time the World Cup concludes Sunday in Calgary.

Blondin was a third of Canada's women's pursuit team that won Olympic gold in February. She claimed individual silver in the women's mass start and also raced the 3,000 and 1,500 in Beijing.

In a sport where skaters often specialize in sprints, middle distance or endurance, an all-rounder is rare.

"It keeps me motivated," Blondin said. "I think I've proven I can do it."

Blondin placed fourth in the women's 3,000 metres Friday at the Olympic Oval. 

She'll compete in the 1,500 before joining Ottawa's Isabelle Weidemann and Valérie Maltais of La Baie, Que., in team pursuit Saturday. 

"One of my goals this year is to get on the podium for the 1,500," Blondin said. "I know my speed right now is really high and so I think I need this weekend to utilize that and to try to execute. 

"I'm hoping I can pull something out that's going to be fast enough for the podium."

On Sunday, Blondin races her signature mass start comprised of both a semifinal and final, as well as the 1,000 metres.

Proper warming down and nutrition, plus walking her dog Brooke morning and night, are how she manages a jam-packed race schedule physically and mentally.

"I feel like I have a little less pressure on my shoulders now that I've come home with two medals at the Games," Blondin said. "I may be nearing the tail end of my career. I don't know. I'm taking it year by year at this point. I'm still performing decently well and just enjoying it."

The Canadian men's pursuit team finished second to earn the host country's lone medal Friday. Calgary's oval is hosting back-to-back World Cups with another three days of racing next week.

Connor Howe of Canmore, Alta., Montreal's Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu and Toronto's Hayden Mayeur finished second just over half a second behind the United States on Friday. Norway was third.

The Canadian trio collected the first medal of the season in the event. Howe and long-distance specialists Jordan Belchos and Ted-Jan Bloemen were fifth in Beijing. 

"It gives us lots of encouragement," Howe said. "This year we're trying out new things a bit, a new team with middle-distance guys to get to speed easier. If you can't start fast enough, you can't make up the time.

"It seems to be working. If we think that's good we'll work on that towards the next Olympics and be better contenders."

Howe leads the World Cup season standings in the men's 1,500 metres. After winning and finishing second in his first two races of the season, he was sixth Friday. 

The 22-year-old said he lost speed late in the race and also got hung up with Norway's Peder Kongshaug changing lanes on the last lap.

"It was an all right race," Howe said. "It wasn't way off. I can't be too sad. I think I can turn it around for next week."

Wesly Dijs of the Netherlands took the men's 1,500 metres ahead of runner-up Zhongyan Ning of China and countryman Kjeld Nuis in third.

Norway's Ragne Wiklund was first in the 3k with Dutchwomen Marijke Groenewoud and Antoinette Rijpma — de Jong second and third respectively ahead of Blondin.

Reigning Olympic gold medallist Irene Schouten of the Netherlands and bronze medallist Weidemann both struggled to seventh and 11th, respectively, in the final pairing.

South Korea's Min-Sun Kim won the women's 500 metres. Vanessa Herzog of Austria placed second and Jutta Leerdam of the Netherlands was third.

The women's 1,500 and team pursuit, and the men's 500 and 5,000 metres are Saturday, followed by the men's and women's 1,000 metres and mass starts Sunday.

Blondin shook off the "what now?" post-Olympic blues she felt after Beijing to find new purpose in training and racing. 

She trained with the men earlier in her career and has returned to that group after concentrating for four years on women's team pursuit.

"I started training with the boys again which I think was a good change," Blondin said. "I communicate more like a guy. In the past, when I trained in that environment, the kind of edge that gave me, it's more my mindset with the boys and I've really enjoyed working with them."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 9, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press