Canadian long-track speedsters rested and ready for Winter Olympics

GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of — Alex Boisvert-Lacroix and Alexandre St-Jean are rested and ready for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

After realizing a dream by qualifying for their first Games, the two long-track speed skaters spent 10 relaxing days in Inzell, Germany with their coach Gregor Jelonek. A trip in a hot air balloon was among their activities.

"An Olympic year is very stressful," Quebec City native St-Jean said Thursday on the eve of the opening ceremony. "Our qualifying was in January, which is relatively late.

"The stress level has been high the last several months. After qualifying, we were happy but we were also a bit run down physically and emotionally."

Team selections were held Jan. 4-9 in Calgary. Some of the Canadian team then took part in a World Cup meet Jan. 19-21 in Erfurt, Germany. Afterwards, St-Jean, Boisvert-Lacroix and Jelonek headed for Inzell, a popular spot for the athletes with a pleasant ambience, good food and a training centre. 

Laurent Dubreuil of Levis, Que., also made the trip, but had to return home to treat an injury.

"It was good for us mentally, even if we didn't stop training," said 24-year-old St-Jean. "Just being there, away from the daily routine at home.

"Once you qualify for the Olympics, everyone wants to talk to you. Yes, there's the media, but also everyone you've ever known wants to talk and congratulate you. It's nice of them, but it's a distraction. Staying in Inzell allowed us to concentrate on the competition in a relaxed setting. It really did us good."

The long-track team arrived in Pyeongchang after an impressive season that saw them collect 22 medals in five World Cup meets. That may help them forget about their disappointment at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, when they were held to two medals, their lowest total since 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway.

"It's completely different from four years ago," said skater Ivanie Blondin of Ottawa, a silver medallist at the 2015 world championships who is in her second Olympics. "This team is more united, like a family on a road trip.

"We're feeding off the performances of our teammates and that's what's pushing us forward as a team. It's night and day compared to Sochi. Even if we have a young team, it's fun to come to the Olympics with such high hopes."

Ten of the 19 Canadian skaters are at their first Olympics. Boisvert-Lacroix, who made the team on his third attempt, was particularly upbeat as they met with media near the athletes village in Gangneung.

"We've been here since Feb. 1 and I was really excited the first few days," said the 30-year-old from Sherbrooke, Que. "I didn't want to miss anything, but in the last few days I got back in my routine and got refocused on training.

"I'm glad I'm not in the first race. I can go cheer for my teammates and check out the ambience in the stands. That should calm me down and help me prepare. It's good my (500 metres) race isn't until Feb. 19.

The first Canadian skaters on the Gangneung oval will be Blondin and Isabelle Weidemann, also from Ottawa, in the women's 3,000 metres on Saturday. Blondin won World Cup gold and bronze medals in the event this season and could possibly give Canada a first medal of the Games. 

"I won medals in both events I'm entered in here so it's not outlandish to believe I can do it," the 27-year-old said. "But even if I have a realistic chance, I don't want to think about it too much.

"I'm just going to concentrate on what I need to do to have a good race."

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