Jamie Macdonald competing in Canadian trials at a past World Cup.                                Photo submitted

Jamie Macdonald competing in Canadian trials at a past World Cup. Photo submitted

Macdonald offers advice to young athletes

Jamie Macdonald has excelled in the short track speed skating Olympic Trials. The former Fort St. James Falcon Speed Skater placed second overall among the top 16 racers competing in five days of competition ten days ago.

Remarkable achievement of BC’s female skaters

Jamie was skating at the Olympic Trials with three other female skaters from B.C. including our very own Vanderhoof Clipper Alison Desmerais, Jamie Lee (Fort St. John) and Courtney Shmyr (Langley) – and all made at least one final. These skaters were the only female skaters not from Quebec, besides one other from New Brunswick.

British Columbia is always, it seems, in a battle with Ontario for provincial ranking and they had no skaters this year. Saskatchewan had one male skater. Quebec had 26 of the 32 male and female skaters entered.

Training on the “fastest ice on earth”

For four years Jamie Macdonald skated in Calgary at the indoor Olympic Oval.

That training and excellent coaching paid off in 2016 when Jamie placed 6th in final ranking and made the National Team. This meant she moved up from 14th on the Development Team to 6th ranked skater on the National Team comprised of the top six skaters in Canada.

She then relocated to Montreal where she’s been training the past year with more of Canada’s top coaches and all the fastest short track skaters. Jamie is now 22 years old. This next season will be her second year on the National Team.

Inspiration as a Fort Falcon

Before her time skating professionaly in Calgary and now Montreal, Jamie grew up in Fort St. James, graduating in 2012. She started training pretty much full time in Calgary in the fall of 2010. She studied remotely and came back home to do courses after racing finished in March for grade 11 and grade 12.

Jamie recalls when the speed skating bug first bit right after her family moved to Fort St. James in 2000 “We were looking for a sport to do and our neighbours recommended speed skating. We fell in love with it.” Her parents volunteered coaching their daughters’ soccer teams and were both very active in supporting Jamie and her sister in the sports they did. The sporting genes are strong as Jamie’s sister skated competitively for a while too and now is a competitive rower in Calgary.

World Cups leading to Olympics

Jamie will likely be chosen to go to four World Cups starting September 28 in Budapest, Hungary followed four days later by an event in Dordrecht, Netherlands. Then in November there are two more World Cups in Shanghai, China and Seoul, South Korea.

Jamie’s got to travel a lot for competitions, to places she would never have otherwise seen. “I’ve never been to Hungary. I’m looking forward to it. I hear they have the best dance party in the arena afterwards!”

These opening four World Cup meetings will carry major significance, with each event designated as an Olympic quota qualifying competition for the February 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, 180 km east of Seoul.

Complicated qualifying quota

36 teams of skaters from all over the world are competing to qualify for spots in the Olympics. The most athletes any country could have (per gender) would be three athletes for the 500, 1000 and 1500 metre events. Countries with relay teams ranked in the top eight in relays from those World Cups get to send a maximum team of five skaters. Jamie’s spot at the Olympics next February could hinge on the performance of Canada’s relay team over the next three months.

Variety in speed skating events

The shortest distance, the 500m is flat out fast. The 1000m is the middle distance. It starts off pretty fast with a combination of speed, strategy and endurance. The 1500m is more strategic where you really have to read the race.

A typical week day for Jamie

Jamie skates twice a day. She’s at the rink warming up at 8:00 a.m. and on the ice at 8:30 a.m. She trains for 90 minutes till 10:00 a.m. doing speed and technical drills at intensity levels depending on whether it is a rest day or not. Then at 10:15 a.m. she’s in the weight room for an hour till 11:15 a.m. Then after a lunch break she’s back at the rink to get ready and sharpen skates to be on the ice again from 3:00 p.m. for another 90 minutes till 4:30 p.m.

After four hours of serious exercise per day, made up of three hours of ice time plus one hour of weight training excluding warm-ups and gearing up – it’s no wonder Jamie is tired at the end of the day. Fortunately Jamie says she’s renting a place only a block away from the rink, which makes a lot of sense. But she says some evenings she’s so exhausted it’s a challenge living alone and taking care of herself to avoid burnout or injury. “I have to make sure I eat right and get enough food, which is tough when all I want to do is sleep.”

Why Montreal?

Keith Gordon, a former coach of Jamie’s from her formative years in the Fort St. James Falcons Speed Skating Club was on hand to explain the move from training in Calgary to Montreal; “The training environment for a short tracker is very important – skating 9 second laps (a speed of around 45 km per hour!) is very difficult and almost impossible on your own. But if you have a dozen skaters that can do that speed, they can take turns drafting each other and sometimes leading. And they get more and more used to, and familiar with, skating in very tight quarters and avoiding falls from contact.

“There is also good support in sports psychology, strength training and likely massage therapy there provided by the national team. All of this exists in Calgary also but it’s more of a centre for long track skaters. Perhaps a lot of it boils down to group dynamics. It’s just that nobody gets really really good unless they go to Montreal!”

About small town talent

Looking back a few short years ago to her roots in Fort St. James, Jamie says “I feel like sometimes small towns get overlooked. Like, anyone can achieve their goals if they go after them. People shouldn’t be surprised to hear athletes are from small communities.” “It’s hard work, of course. I don’t think I realised how tough it was.”

“But I guess you can be from anywhere, you’ve just got to do what you love. I fell in love with speed skating and I was passionate.”

Advice to aspiring young athletes

“So long as you have passion about something, it’s definitely worth pursuing.”

What is it about speed skating that you love the most?

“I think it’s so many aspects. It’s a very dynamic sport. There is a lot of technical skating technique, and you get to go fast! It’s tactical as well.”

“You have to be smart in the race because a split second can change the whole outcome.”

“I just love all of it. I enjoy focusing on the technical little things that adjust performance. I always have different things to work on.”

“Once you get the technique there’s always a little thing you have to tweak.”

What are your future plans?

“I’m actually not sure. I was going to leave that decision for after the Olympics.”

“It’s hard being away from my family though. I’d like to take a little bit of time to spend with family. With training I only get less than a month off each year so that’s not much.”

Clippers and Falcons meet Jamie in town!

Jamie just had a short rest break and stopped in at her mom’s in Vanderhoof. They arranged an open house for young skaters from local speed skating clubs, the Vanderhoof Clippers and Fort St. James Falcons, to have a chance to meet the Olympic Team skater. What a thrill!

Jamie has plenty of support coming from the local skating community.

Coach Keith Gordon said last weekend “I just survived a gruelling day watching Jamie race another six big races on my live streaming. Sure hope I don’t get an overuse charge by Telus.”

Jamie’s Olympic trial results

Jamie raced the 500, 1000 and 1500 metres each three times with heats, semi’s and finals in the short distances and semi’s and finals in the 1500m. So 24 races over eight days. She and Kim Boutin (Quebec) were the only skaters to qualify for all nine finals.

These two skaters were ranked on the best standing in two races in each distance and Jamie ended up with two second place finishes in the 1500m and 2nd and 3rd in the 500m. She also got 2nd and 4th placings in the 1000m.

But by the last race she was in a battle with Kassandra Bradette (also Quebec) for second place, and Jamie beat her getting the all-important 2nd place overall!

Like a concerned parent Keith notes, “Jamie had a stomach bug on the Saturday and looked, in her last semi-final, to be spent – we thought she wasn’t going to qualify out of her semi-final but she was very fortunate that the skater in 2nd fell with a lap to go. But in the final she pulled off the smoothest, slickest and sickest (literally?!) pass to top her friend and rival Kassandra.”

2018 Olympics within grasp, but not a given

Coach Keith says these race details are important because “social media and some news outlets are proclaiming Jamie as our next Olympian. Ahh… if only that were true. For Jamie to go to the Olympics several things still have to turn out right. For starters Canada needs to qualify for the relay and only eight teams can go.”

“Teams are selected by the results from the first four World Cups of the season and there are about eight countries just as strong or stronger than Canada. If we have a female relay team qualify we send five skaters. And there are two skaters who are submitting bye requests having had to miss trials due to injury. One is Marianne St-Gelais who is a cinch to be selected to the team.

“The other is Valerie Maltais who also has impressive credentials although, biased as I am, I would not say should get a bye over Jamie. And Canada needs to qualify for individual distance places – as many as three per distance – but possibly as low as one! So between relays, byes and individual qualifications a lot can happen. Oh yes and also Jamie would need to keep training and competing well throughout the fall and winter and keep healthy! That’s tough too. And even international politics could put the Olympic Games in some doubt. “So yes, tremendously exciting and a huge accomplishment for Jamie but still much to transpire to get our first Olympian from Fort St. James,” says Keith Gordon.

Development skater Alison aims at 2022

19 year old Vanderhoof Clipper, Alison Desmarais, was also competing alongside Jamie. This was Alison’s first Olympic trials and going into the meet she was seeded 14th, out of 16 female skaters. The top three, including Jamie in 2nd, were guaranteed a spot on the ‘Provisional’ Olympic Team along with two discretionary spots.

“Being that I was seeded well out of the top five I was not expecting to make the Olympic team and focused on learning from the experience of racing and training with skaters more experienced than myself,” says Alison.

Over the five days of Olympic Trial competition Alison says “I feel I learned from the failures and successes of every race. I am not sure how I placed overall, as this competition was not for points, and the final ranking list was not released outside of the people who qualified for the team.”

Opportunity to learn from the best

“I took every opportunity to try new things, some of which worked and some of which still need work. As well as learning new racing strategies and tactics I also learned how to mentally stay focused for a week of competition. I watched how people prepare for a stressful competition and saw how different skaters dealt with the stress and pressure of wanting to make an Olympic spot.”

Her plan all along, she says, was to take everything she could from this competition and bring it forward into the coming seasons, with the eventual goal of being one of the top skaters going into the 2022 Olympic season.

For the rest of the season Alison will remain the 14th ranked skater in Canada. She will continue training in Calgary with the hopes of finishing this season in the top 12 to once again have a spot on the National Development Team next season.

Vanderhoof, Fraser Lake and Fort St. James are so incredibly proud of you Jamie and Alison!

 

Jamie Macdonald competing in Canadian trials at a past World Cup.                                Photo submitted

Jamie Macdonald competing in Canadian trials at a past World Cup. Photo submitted