When Canadian speed skaters Graeme Fish and Marsha Hudey opted out of the competition bubble in the Netherlands last February, they knew lengthy layoffs from international racing were in store.
The drought reached 21 months for Hudey, 20 for Fish, but both will race later this week in Poland, site of the 2021-22 season’s first World Cup meeting. Both are still comfortable with their decision to pass on the only competitions held during the 2020-21 season.
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“I’m going faster than I’ve ever gone at this time of year, so I don’t regret it,” said Fish, a 24-year-old from Moose Jaw, Sask., who skates the 5,000-metres in Poland. “I’m at a different point in my career than some of the other guys. A lot of the older guys might have wanted to go to the World Cup. I didn’t want to risk getting COVID because that could permanently ruin my health forever.”
Hudey, a 31-year-old from White City, Sask., had a few reasons for opting out of the Heerenveen bubble.
“I wasn’t really sure about traveling at that point and I also knew it wasn’t going to count for anything (toward Olympic qualifying), because that’s what they told us.
“So I thought why risk it? I’ll just stay home and train. I wasn’t really losing anything that way by not going. I also feel I’m a very experienced athlete, so even for the sake of just going to race in that environment I didn’t feel like I would gain anything more because I’ve already done two Olympic Games and been on the World Cup circuit for many years now.”
Their results this fall could speak to the wisdom of those choices, and early validation has already come for Hudey. She finished second to Brooklyn McDougall in the 500m at the Canadian championships last month in Calgary, losing the title by .005 seconds. Her time of 37.856 seconds wasn’t too far off her 2017 personal best of 37.30 seconds.
“I obviously didn’t skate right on my personal best and I still feel I have more to squeeze out of my 500 for sure this year, but I did get a personal best in my opener which is my stronger suit in the race,” said Hudey. “That was very exciting for me because I haven’t done that in years. That’s just a testament to a lot of the work we’ve been doing over the last year.”
All those months away from racing were spent working on strength and power, the foundations of speed.
“I really just utilized last year as a building year for myself and I’ve never had that before. I thought it might be a good opportunity to just basically have a training year and see how that could pan out for me this year.”
She’ll find out soon enough, when she skates the 500m against some of the world’s top athletes.
“The season before last I was in the top 10, so I think a top 10 result would be phenomenal. Just putting together two consistent races would be huge because I think that’s the biggest thing. If I can skate consistently then every single race builds toward the Olympic Games. So I’m just looking to execute really consistent races.”
Fish has a similar goal. He was second to teammate Ted-Jan Bloemen in both the 5,000m and 10,000m at the Canadian championships. He would like to reach a World Cup podium early in the season, to ensure he’s on the right track, but it’s far more important that he keep building toward a peak in February at the Beijing Olympics. And, while he’d also like to take back the 10,000m world record he lost to Swede Nils van der Poel, who lowered the mark to 12:32.95 in the Heerenveen bubble last February, there won’t be many chances this season. The only World Cup 10,000m will be held on slower ice in Stavanger, Norway.
Fish set the record at 12:33.868 at the World Single Distances Championships in Salt Lake City on Feb. 14, 2020. Most world records are set at altitude in Calgary and Salt Lake City, while Heerenveen is at sea level, making van der Poel’s feat unique.
“Last year Heerenveen was super fast but he was also skating super well so it didn’t really surprise me when I saw him do it,” said Fish. “I was actually watching it. He actually text me before he did it to tell me he was going to go for it.”