3 Manitoba speed skaters aim to follow in steps of legendary local Olympians, inspire next generation
Manitoba has a long and decorated Olympic history in long track speed skating that dates back 90 years.
Winnipeg's Heather McLean and Tyson Langelaar, along with Alexa Scott of Clandeboye, Man. will compete at next month's Winter Games in Beijing.
All three Manitobans were in Calgary when they were named to the 16-person Canadian Olympic long track speed skating team last Monday.
Langelaar, Scott and McLean will look to join a special list of Manitobans who have earned a spot on an Olympic podium while donning the Red and White.
Winnipegger Frank Stack earned one of five long track medals for Canada when he captured bronze in the men's 10,000-metre race at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Cathy Priestner of Winnipeg became the first Canadian woman to nab an Olympic long track medal when she collected silver in the women's 500m race at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria.
Cindy Klassen dominated the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. The Winnipegger, who also earned a bronze in Salt Lake City, Utah four years earlier, collected a Games-high five medals — gold in the 1,500m, silver in both the 1,000m and team pursuit, and bronze in the 3,000m and 5,000m races.
Watch | Cindy Klassen's record-braking trip to the Torino Olympics:
That mark remains the most medals won by a Canadian athlete at any Olympics.
The success of Manitobans is a major reason why long track speed skating is Canada's most successful sport at the Olympics with 37 medals.
McLean working hard despite tough season
McLean is the veteran among the contingent of Manitoba long track speed skaters.
The 29-year-old competed in the women's 500m and 1,000m races at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, placing 14th and 25th, respectively.
"I didn't know how to prepare for the whole Games environment, and even the competition itself was a way bigger deal than I was used to," McLean said of her 2018 experience. "I definitely put way more pressure on myself because of it being the Olympics.
"I think now I just feel a lot more confident in myself and my abilities, and also more confident in handling everything extra that comes along with the Games."
A veteran of the World Cup circuit, McLean, who started skating at age two, had a breakout 2015-16 campaign, capturing three individual bronze medals in 500m races.
It wasn't until January 2021 that she returned to the podium, nabbing another bronze in the same distance in Heerenveen, Netherlands.
McLean's performances in this season's World Cup circuit haven't been up to her standards. She sits 21st in the season-long standings.
"I was quite disappointed with myself," she said.
With the return to another Winter Games nearing, McLean has been training an average of six hours a day, five to six days per week.
She is only scheduled to compete in the women's 500m, but McLean is eager to put her best skate forward while donning the Red and White.
"It's really exciting to go to the Olympics and represent Canada, and to show everybody what we've been working so hard toward," McLean said.
Scott expects nervousness
The youngest of all of Canada's long track speed skaters, Scott took up speed skating at the age of nine.
She remembers watching the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and decided to trade in her figure skates for speed skates.
"It looked more appealing on television and when I tried it I knew I loved it," Scott recalled.
She enjoyed a fabulous junior career that included three appearances at the world junior skating championships. Two years ago, she capped her junior career with the all-around bronze medal in Poland.
Scott joined Sylvia Burka, Liz Appleby and Shannon Rempel as only the fourth Manitoba female long track speed skater to win a world junior overall medal.
Now in the midst of her rookie season with the national senior World Cup team, the 20-year-old Scott is primed to make her Olympic Games debut.
"Now that the team is officially announced I can say it feels exciting," she said.
Scott set a personal-best time in the 1,000m race at last month's World Cup meet in Salt Lake City — the same distance she will race in in Beijing.
She is also an alternate in the women's team pursuit.
"I was more nervous [Monday] when it initially hit me that I was going to skate but at the end of the day I skate a lot. I know how to skate," Scott said. "I'll be OK but I'm sure I'm going to get nervous when it gets to the day because you always do."
Langelaar excited despite COVID-19
Like Scott, Langelaar will also be making his first appearance at the Winter Games
The 22-year-old Winnipegger has experienced a slew of emotions since before the team was named.
In a bubble-like environment in Calgary for a few weeks already, he said it was "pretty stressful and brutal," as long track speed skaters try to avoid contracting COVID-19.
Athletes that test positive within two weeks before departure aren't allowed to go to Beijing to compete at crowdless venues.
It's not the way Langelaar, who started speed skating after watching Klassen at the 2006 Games, drew up making his Olympic debut.
"It's definitely different, but at the end of the day it's still the Olympics and it's still the thing that I've dedicated my whole career toward," he said.
A member of the World Cup team since the 2019-20 season, Langelaar sits 18th in the men's 1,500m standings this season.
In Beijing, he will skate in the 1,500m and team pursuit with the hope of following in the footsteps some of Manitoba's speed skating legends.
"It's nice to grow with such icons of the sport, [looking] up to them and seeing how well they've done," Langelaar said.
"With Alexa and Heather going this time around it's very nice to go with three, and hopefully we can keep the Manitoba tradition and inspire the next Manitoba generation of skaters."
The competition will take place at the National Speed Skating Oval — or Ice Ribbon — and is slated to run most days from Feb. 5 to 19.