Rising star De Haitre leads Canadian speedskaters at sprint championships

Experienced De Haitre leads Canada

CALGARY —  When Vincent De Haitre landed in Sochi, Russia, he realized he was unlikely to visit the podium.

“I knew deep down,” he said, “I was not a contender.”

But the teenaged upstart had been aware that an up-close look at the 2014 Olympics, showcase of the planet’s finest athletes, would be a great investment. So the Cumberland, Ont., speedskater soaked up the experience.

One lesson, in particular, stuck with him.

“Management of energy, but still being well-balanced in life at the same time,” De Haitre, who will represent Canada this week at the world sprint speedskating championships, said Wednesday. “Like, I’m not going to lock myself in a dorm for three weeks (waiting for) my race because that’s not healthy mentally. So it’s a matter of picking and choosing the moments – finding out when it’s a good time to maybe go for a walk or have a scoop of ice cream.”

Mindset refined, De Haitre has progressed swiftly from wide-eyed Olympian to world-stage factor.

And he’s still only 22 years old.

In December, De Haitre laid claim to his first gold medal in World Cup competition, edging defending world champion Pavel Kulizhnikov in the 1,000-metre event in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Earlier this month â€” significantly at the 2018 Winter Games venue in Gangneung, South Korea â€” De Haitre earned silver in the 1,000 at the world single-distance championships.

His roll is undeniable.

“It’s progressing very fast if I look at the general curve of improvement for most people,” De Haitre said. “But it’s something I expect from myself. I’m happy to see improvement because it shows I’ve been making the right choices.”

In addition to De Haitre, Laurent Dubreuil of Levis, Que., and Heather McLean of Winnipeg will skate for Canada this week at the Olympic Oval in Calgary.

Action, slated for Saturday and Sunday, features 500- and 1,000-metre races. Skaters compete twice at both distances. Based on cumulative rankings, men’s and women’s champions will be crowned Sunday.

The international field â€” 28 men, 28 women â€” features seven of the 12 medallists from the world single-distance championships two weeks ago.

“It’s a true testament to see who will be a true contender for a medal at the Olympics,” De Haitre said of the showdown in South Korea. “It’s the same people. It’s the same ice … being a medallist at the world single-distance championships is a step towards a medal at the Olympics. It’s definitely a huge confidence boost going into an Olympic year. I’m excited to see how far I can take this.”

Susan Auch, president of Speed Skating Canada, said Wednesday that there were only 351 days until the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Games.

“It makes it feel like it’s just around the corner,” said De Haitre, who’s resided in Calgary since 2012. “Even at the start of this season, I was like, ‘The Olympics aren’t really that far away.'”

De Haitre’s mental clock also features a countdown to the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. He competed as a track cyclist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland â€” only six months after Sochi â€” and finished fourth in the team sprint.

“I know I have the potential to be a good cyclist,” he said. “It’s always in the back of my head. I try to apply lessons that I’ve learned in one sport to the other. But cycling is on the backburner until after the 2018 Olympics.”

Understandably, he’s focused on his blossoming speedskating career.

“The confidence that came with a few good performances definitely helped me calm down at the (start) line,” said De Haitre. “For me, it’s about being relaxed. Sometimes it’s counterintuitive, you’ve got to try not to try so hard.”

Scott Cruickshank, The Canadian Press