It’s no secret that Fernie is one of the hottest destinations for summer sports in the Kootenays.
It’s also become a go-to training spot for the Canadian speed skating team.
Twenty-eight members of the national team were in Fernie this week, training for their upcoming winter competition season.
Among those athletes were Olympians Ivanie Blondin, Ted-Jan Bloemen and Valerie Maltais.
Both Blondin and Bloemen represented Canada in speed skating at Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.
Blondin narrowly missed the podium with a fourth place finish in the Ladies’ Team Pursuit, while Bloemen broke the Olympic record in the 10,000m Long Track competition to capture the gold medal, as well as silver in 5000m.
Despite Blondin’s unfortunate finish in South Korea, she has several other victories to her name, including the title of 2016 women’s long track world champion. Ivanie Blondin is a three-time medallist at the ISU World Single Distances Championships.
Maltais is well-known on the World Junior Championship circuit and at the Canadian Winter Games, and has many medals to her name.
After being named 2012 Speed Skating Canada Female Athlete of the Year, she has since won silver with the 3000m relay team in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Bloemen moved to Calgary from Holland four years ago to begin his journey with the Canadian team, and he’s still getting used to seeing the stunning mountain backdrop.
“I thought the mountain biking here is pretty fun,” he said, also admitting he rode carefully to avoid injuring himself.
“For me it’s my first time out here,” said Maltais, who made the move west from Montreal not long ago.
“The Rockies and all the mountains, I’m still amazed by all the views. Here, it’s really nice, it’s a nice little town.”
Nationals team coach Bart Schouten explained that while the speed skaters would normally train long distance on their road bikes in Calgary, they decided to switch things up.
“We love the environment here, the mountains obviously, so we’re trying to get a good endurance camp in,” he said.
“Instead of road biking, we wanted to do mountain biking instead.
Schouten has vacationed in Fernie for the past eight years he’s been in Canada.
“I love Fernie, it’s awesome,” he said.
For the national long track team, this is the first time they have come to Fernie to train long distance.
But for the short track team, it’s their fourth. They’ve been spotted around town checking out local attractions in between training.
Blondin said the change of scenery had been warmly welcomed by the athletes. Starting April 1 every year, the athletes begin their rigorous off-season training camps, which they all agreed was the hardest part of the season; preparing for competition season.
Nine weeks of endurance training is followed by one week of lighter training, followed by another nine weeks of intense endurance training. Then, competition season starts in October and continues until March.
Bloemen said his experience at Pyeongchang would be hard to beat. For the veteran speed skater, this long-awaited victory was especially sweet.
“There’s this one moment in time, and that’s when you have to do it,” said Bloemen.
“You never get another chance. It has to happen right then.”
And the world champion delivered, setting the Olympic record at 12 minutes 39.77 seconds.
Asked how he stayed calm at the starting line, Bloeman said his years of experience prepared him for that moment.
“I was so prepared for that moment, and I rehearsed it so many times in my head, I knew exactly what was going to happen, (and) what I was capable of,” he said.
“Also, just accept that I’m going to be as good as I am that day. I’m not going to be any better or worse. I’m just going to skate my best and that’s all I’m going to do. And if you accept that, you can release a lot of pressure I think.”