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Celebration on the home front after Ivanie Blondin claims silver in Olympics mass start


For Blondin’s parents, the silver medal was a just reward for a career that has had its share of twists and turns

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Watching from the television in their bedroom in Orleans, Ont. early Saturday morning, Ivanie Blondin’s parents knew something special was about to take place on the speed skating oval in Beijing.

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“I could see it on her face,” father Robert Blondin said as Ivanie and the 15 others lined up before the mass start. “I could just tell, just like in the semifinal, that she was ready for this.”

At the end of the tense, back and forth 6,400-metre battle, Blondin, 31, claimed an Olympic silver medal, a mere toe — six one-hundredths of a second — behind Irene Schouten of the Netherlands. Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida claimed the bronze.

Coupled with the team pursuit gold she claimed along with Isabelle Weidemann, also from Ottawa, and Valerie Maltais earlier in the week, it has been a shining Olympics of redemption for Blondin.

Much like her entire career, which began at the Gloucester Concordes club when she was eight years old, Blondin needed to battle through countless challenges — including being grabbed and pulled from behind in a closing lap — she had to skate through many challenges to finally reach the podium.

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“We’re so happy for her,” said her mother, Lise Blondin. “She has always been so determined, but especially in speed skating, you never know what to expect and she’s had some disappointments. You’ve just got to let all that go.”

For Blondin’s parents and those in Ottawa who have been so instrumental during her career, the silver medal was a just reward for a career that has had its share of twists and turns and setbacks.

Blondin made the national junior short track team when she was 15, moving to Montreal to compete with the country’s best young skaters.

But when she failed to qualify for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, she seriously contemplated hanging up the blades for good.

In stepped Mike Rivet, who began coaching Blondin when she first took up the sport with the Gloucester Concordes.

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His advice was for Blondin to switch to long track.

“She needed to make a change,” said Rivet, who also coached Weidemann in her formative speed skating years in Ottawa. “She was frustrated. I remember talking to her at a Tim Hortons in Orleans.”

Rivet says outsiders to speed skating don’t always recognize how much dedication and adversity comes with the sport.

“It has been a real challenge, a long road and she has had a lot of bad luck for a lot of years,” he said. “From the beginning, she was always a feisty character and she hasn’t changed. You saw that feistiness at the start of the mass start. She’s a go-getter with a killer instinct.”

Blondin moved to Calgary to train with the national team and has been well-established at the top of the World Cup speed skating circuit for years. She also competed at both the 2014 and 2018 Olympics, but experienced another bout of depression after disappointments at PyeongChang in 2018. At those Games, she finished sixth in the 3,000 metres, fifth in the 5,000 metres, fourth in the team pursuit and didn’t advance out of the semifinals in the mass start.

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Frustrated by her 3,000 metre performance early on in Beijing, Blondin opted to pull out of the 5,000 metres in order to focus on the team pursuit.

The way Rivet sees it, winning gold with Weidemann and Maltais took “the monkey off her back,” relieving her of years upon years of pressure that had built up after winning more than 60 World Cup medals and being to 12 world championships.

Then came the mass start race Saturday.

“The elusive one was the Olympic medal,” said Rivet. “It’s so cool to see. These are the three best mass start skaters in the world. This is the correct thing to see those three on the podium. There’s not much difference between the top three.”

The success of Blondin and Weidemann, whose family moved to Calgary and the national training centre five years ago, is also a tribute to the passionate speed skating community in Ottawa. In addition to the team pursuit gold, Weidemann won a silver in the 5,000 metres and a silver in the 3,000 metres.

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“It’s absolutely wonderful for Ottawa and the coaching in Ottawa,” said Laurel Rockwell, Weidemann’s mother. “It’s a sport that is accessible for young families.”

For Blondin’s proud parents, Saturday’s silver medal brought them all the way back to the beginning, when Ivanie was plucked out of the CanSkate program as an eight-year-old.

“They took her out of that and put her on the other ice with the speed skaters,” said Robert Blondin. “She was like a bee, always moving, and I was in the stands with my coffee. She was a busy girl, she excelled at cross country and rowing, but it got to a point where there was just too much running around, so she stuck with the speed skating.”

kwarren@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

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