Feb. 4, 2022

Olympic-bound speedskaters can’t wait to test themselves against the world’s best

Canada’s long-track speedskating team in Beijing includes 10 — count’ em — UCalgary students and alumni
Connor Howe
Leading up to the 2022 Winter Olympics, Connor Howe worked around obstacles like the COVID pandemic and closed training facilities. Dave Holland, Speed Skating Canada

As a boy in Canmore, a few years into speedskating, Connor Howe was enraptured by what he saw on television — coverage of the oval races at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

“I paid attention,” he says. “It was pretty special to see.”

Participating in something like that, Howe thought to himself, would be wonderful.

“It seemed really far off — like a low-chance dream — but every year it got more likely in my head,” says Howe. “I didn’t know if it would happen for sure — until it actually did. It kind of just worked out.”

Now, a dozen years later — during which he relocated to Calgary and shifted from short track to long track — Howe is one of Team Canada’s speedskaters at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

“I’m pretty happy with where I am,” says Howe, 21. “I’m probably ahead of where I expected to be. I was always thinking 2022 or ’26 for the first Olympics for me. But, these past two years, I’ve come quite a ways. I’m happy where it’s headed.”

Howe is currently pecking away at a degree in math from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Science, with a minor in urban planning. Eventually, he would like to pursue a master’s, but, understandably, his focus these days is squarely on Beijing, where he’ll race in the men’s 1,000 and 1,500 metres. He is also part of the pursuit team, which is a medal contender.

A rising star in the speedskating world, Howe finished in the top eight of four World Cup events this season.

Dave Holland, Speed Skating Canada

And, as much as he’s looking forward to testing himself against the world’s best, Howe is also eager to soak up the atmosphere at the Winter Games.

Teammate Ted-Jan Bloemen’s first Olympic appearance — 2018 in PyeongChang — resulted in silver and gold medals. He was telling Howe recently about the keys to success, especially for a newcomer.

“He said he tried to keep it pretty low-key — not to get too excited and change everything, but still experience it,” says Howe. “It’s still a 400-metre track and the skating is still the same. It’s just more on the world stage. But the actual skating you should try to keep the same.”

Because, of course, elite athletes do love a routine. The past couple of years, however, presented an unsettling challenge.

Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic at times force the locking down of facilities, UCalgary’s Oval was closed for months for mechanical repairs.

“We had a lot less specific on-ice training,” says Howe.

So, during the 2020-21 season, national team members had to make the best of it — skating outside at Red Deer’s oval and at nearby Gap Lake — and relying on improvised dry-land sessions. Howe says he ended up working out with kettlebells in his parents’ backyard, occasionally even putting the trees to use during exercises.

“We had to get creative, for sure,” he says. “I never really knew how long the pandemic would go on. I didn’t know for sure. Looking back, it gives me confidence almost that you can go a few months without ice and it’ll still work out.”

By virtue of being among the World Cup’s top eight racers through four events this season — he snagged silver on Dec. 11 doing the 1,500 in Calgary — Howe pre-qualified for that event at the Olympics. Last month, Canada’s coaching staff decided to add the 1,000 to his portfolio.

“It’s cool,” says Howe. “I’m starting to get excited, for sure.”

Howe isn’t the only UCalgary-connected speedskater in Beijing.

Joining him are:

  • Jordan Belchos (mass start, team pursuit) — Bachelor of Arts, urban studies 
  • Graeme Fish (10,000 metres) — Faculty of Kinesiology
  • Marsha Hudey (500) — BCR’14, Cumming School of Medicine
  • Gilmore Junio (500) — Faculty of Kinesiology, former student
  • Tyson Langelaar (1,500, team pursuit) — Faculty of Arts, urban studies
  • Brooklyn McDougall (500) — BSc’21, biological sciences, Faculty of Science
  • Heather McLean (500) — Faculty of Arts, sociology
  • Maddison Pearman (1,000, 1,500) — BKin’21; Olympic Oval guest relations representative
  • Isabelle Weidemann (3,000, 5,000, team pursuit) — BSc’21, geology, Faculty of Science

Long-track events start Feb. 5 at the National Speed Skating Oval. Action can be livestreamed on CBC.ca.

Derek Leung, Speed Skating Canada

Check out the CBC's events schedule and results.