Transcript: Player’s Own Voice Podcast with guest Ivanie Blondin
Episode released date November 9, 2021
Anastasia: Being an all- rounder in any sport is less common than it used to be. Almost nobody can sprint and win endurance races anymore. Ivanie Blondin is the incredibly rare speed skater who can do it all. Not that it’s been easy, by any means.
This conversation has been a long time coming. I am excited to sit down and chat with one of Canada’s most complete athletes.
It’s player’s own voice. I’m Anastasia Bucsis.
Thanks so much for taking the time, my friend.
Ivanie Blondin: You’re very welcome. Trying to make it work.
Anastasia: Can we just point out the elephant in the room, the parrot in the room? Who is this?
Ivanie Blondin: This is gizmo. I’ve had him since 2010, so a little while, and he was a couple of months old when I got him. So yeah, he’s an African grey parrot. He’s quite an Interesting character.
Anastasia: He’s been making alarm sounds and cell phone sounds.
Ivanie Blondin: Yeah, and he clears his throat like a human and he whistles and does a telephone ring.
Anastasia: So you guys might hear him.
Ivanie Blondin: He really likes to call my coach, Remmelt (Elderling).
Anastasia: How is that going? I mean, of course, Remmelt is such a significant –[parrot squawks ‘remmelt!’] thank you Gizmo…such a significant force in your in your skating life and your personal life, too. I mean, you have such a connection. You’re going into your third Olympic season.
Ivanie Blondin: Yeah, I know it’s crazy. It’s crazy to think that I’m this old now. It’s weird,
Anastasia: If you’re old, I’m ancient.
Ivanie Blondin: Oh my gosh. Not even. But yeah, it’s good and like, I’m just excited, you know? And last Olympics was a big Booboo for me. I guess in a way, I felt like I really didn’t represent myself or the country the way I wanted to. So I’m hoping that I can turn things around this time and and perform better. And I think we have a real shot, especially in the team pursuit, and I’m hoping I can stay on my feet this time for the mass start.
So now, I’m really excited. I feel really confident right now going into the Olympic season and this past week was definitely a mental struggle, which I think is only natural given the past year that we’ve had with COVID and not competing much. But it’s exciting for sure.
Anastasia: How are you a different person than the Ivanie Blondin of 2017?
Ivanie Blondin: Um, I think just back then, like I didn’t rebound as well as I could. Bad performances would come or I’d have ups and downs and the downs were really, really low and the ups were really high as well. But I found myself in a state where sometimes I couldn’t get out of the really lows and I just kept digging myself a hole.
And so if bad performances come now, like this past weekend, for example, I wasn’t very happy with my 3K. I went up to the mountains. My 1000 m race maybe was affected by that, but whatever. And then I rebounded in the 1500 the next day. So I don’t know. I just I think I’m a different person mentally than I was back then. I think I’m a lot stronger. And after 2018 Olympics for an entire season, I suffered with depression and I think that was a huge learning curve for me of like how to overcome these, these hard moments and how to look past like all the negative energy and the negative thoughts in my head.
Anastasia: What was the biggest lesson that you learnt through some of those down months after Pyeongchang?
Ivanie Blondin: to just focus on myself and not focus on others? It can be really hard, especially in an individual sport, not to look at your team-mates and be like, what are they doing different than I am, you know? And how can I be better and whatever? So I think it’s really important to just focus on yourself and focus on your process. And for sure, like this past weekend too, I was kind of asking myself the question like, what am I doing different? You know, like why all of a sudden, like, am I not the number one across every single distance? Which has happened in the past, but at the same time, like we’re all in different stages. We’re all trying to peak for different moments and I’m doing different things and training and mentally too just like I’m in a different spot right now, so.
So it’s focussing on yourself, but also focussing on the process in order to achieve the result, I think, is also something that’s really important.
Anastasia: Isn’t that funny? I think people see the Olympics every two years or four years, of course, and they think all these kids must be under so much stress for the two weeks. And yet it’s actually a whole year. The Olympic year is so incredibly stressful.
And they’re hypersensitive.
Ivanie Blondin: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s strange. The Olympic season is just like a really weird season and I think for all of us.
Anastasia: You’re always like, Why am I not doing this or why…you know, just analysing everything all the time. Yeah, yeah. …
But just to get back to Pyeongchang really quickly. What were some of the things that actually helped you get out of out of that depression?
Ivanie Blondin: The people around me, for sure. Like he was my boyfriend, then
my husband now, Conrad. After the games, I actually flew directly to Hungary and I was celebrated over there. You know, like, they didn’t see my performances as a disappointment. And in a way that kind of helped me. But then when I flew back to Canada afterwards, it’s like, that’s when it really hit me: I’m coming home medal-less and I felt like a failure.
And just surrounding myself with the things that made me happy were really important. And so obviously, the animals. I also started fostering for the Cochrane Humane Society. And so I just kept kind of filling the house with more and more broken animals and trying to, make them better and adoptable in the end. I focus a lot on like the hard cases, so dogs that had brain injuries and things like that and then I would rehab them to a point where they could be adopted and in a way like I was helping these animals. But it was also helping me because I felt like I had a purpose.
And so it was, yeah, it was just that whole year was just like trying to, like, find myself and rebuild my self-esteem and make myself feel happy again. And it was it was tough. Like, I definitely had some hard moments, but I’m glad, obviously like the support system that I had around me and also Remmelt coming in. I think he shined like a different light on everything. He’s just he’s such an incredible human being and he’s like one of my closest friends. He’s my coach. But in a way like I do see him also as like my best friend. There’s kind of like an unconditional love that I think we both share and we’re very similar in personalities. And I think that’s why it’s so easy sometimes. But also it can be difficult too. And just like I don’t know I do truly feel like he, he cares for me as a human being first and then an athlete second. And I think that that’s really important too, to have the human side of it. And when I need to go up to the mountains, he’s he was the first one I go to. Between the 3K and the 1000m, as an example, I was supposed to go do Grassy Lakes…
Anastasia: I just did it!. It’s supposed to be such an easy hike. My lungs were burning all the way. First red flag. I’m like, Okay, I got to get back on the treadmill. Yeah.
Ivanie Blondin: And so I was driving out there and I was, I like, called Remmelt, and I was Hey,I don’t know if I should do grassy lake, it’s a short hike, and I feel like I’m kind of not wasting my time, but looking for like more of an adventure. I didn’t even ask the question. He was like, “it doesn’t matter if it’s one hour for three hours, whatever is going to make you feel better mentally”. And I was just like, here’s my chance to do the challenge that I want to do. And so I just kept driving up. I knew that Tent Ridge, I had never done it before. I also didn’t know that you’re supposed to do it clockwise not counterclockwise. So I did the opposite direction, which was really hard and there was quite a bit of snow and I didn’t have crampons, didn’t have poles. I was not prepared. I was wearing like leggings
Anastasia: maybe a little unprepared.
Ivanie Blondin: Yeah, I was very unprepared and it was a little bit sketchy at the top with like the snow shelves and stuff like that. But I think mentally that’s what I needed, and that’s how he sees the situation to like Remmelt is just like whatever you need to do mentally in order to to be better on the ice. Figure yourself out first and then skate second kind of thing.
Anastasia: When you were working on yourself, you know you, you mentioned the animals, of course, and you can’t see Brooke right now on the on the camera. I would love to just hold a microphone because she’s snoring loudly. We’ll get a shot of her. But when you’re working on yourself, especially after Pyeongchang, you know, unfortunately going through clinical depression. Was there a moment on ice that made you think, Oh, I love speed skating? Or was it all the work off the ice that actually reframed your relationship with sport?
Ivanie Blondin: I think it was all the work off the ice like that in that season when I when I remembered like how much I did love skating was actually like the following season when I got back on the ice and I had this new light and like just a different feeling of how like I stepped on summer ice and it was just a different feeling. You know, I didn’t need to be on medication anymore and I didn’t have migraines every day and just I felt not anxious, like showing up at the Oval and like that was the first sign kind of the anxiety surrounding the Oval and to just even present myself to training every day, I didn’t want to do that versus the year after the games. I just I felt not anxious anymore. I was happy again. I was happy to surround myself with the people from skating. So yes, it was. I don’t know. It’s different.
Anastasia: I guess. You told me a quick anecdote, though. After Pyeongchang, they were replaying all the races from 2018 on the jumbotron in the oval. And you had said I just broke down and cried on ice because you were on ice and you were watching your races from an Olympics that was unfortunately tremendously disappointing for you. Does that live in your head?
Ivanie Blondin: Not anymore. One of the images they showed, was the team pursuit team. And that was a hard hit for us. You know, like, we finished fourth. We lost to the Americans in the final, which was like a huge blow to our team. Lot of things happened at the games that I’m just like, I don’t like to relive. I saw it on the screen and I was like reliving the same emotions that I had, lived at the games. And it’s hard. Like I just broke down and I started crying and Remmelt came to sit next to me on the bench. I got off the ice. I don’t even think I finished the practise that day and it was just there, you know, like not asking questions like, I think he already knew what was going on. But yeah, he was just there to support me, and that’s really all I needed at that moment.
Anastasia: You’re such a generational skater, and it’s kind of fun for me to say that because you know, I think the first time we competed against each other was probably 2000 in Sault Ste Marie. On that 330 meter track. Yeah, and I had the flu and I remember they were serving chilli at lunch. And I said Oh yeah, I’m going to barf. But you are truly. You work incredibly hard, but you are so talented and so good at so many things. I mean, I’ve said this to you privately. You remind me a little bit of a Cindy Klassen, who is still the greatest all around speed skater of all time. So have you felt pressure to specialise either way?
Ivanie Blondin: I don’t feel like I…. I don’t really feel the pressure, I guess, to specialise and do you mean specific distances?
Anastasia: Yeah. I mean, to put it in layman’s terms, no one is convincing Usain Bolt to run the 400 metre. Yeah, you can do, you know, like an Eric Heiden, 5k, 3k, 1500m, team pursuit, mass start.
Ivanie Blondin: Yeah, yeah, it’s hard for sure. And like and sometimes there’s some weekends that I feel better at the 50 and there’s some weekends that I feel better at the 5K. Like it, just it just depends. It’s a very strange situation, I guess. And but then again, like the fact that women in the past have been able to do it like Cindy, and it’s becoming, I think, less and less common. But I still feel like I somehow can manage those distances. And I think the fact that I I proved to myself two years ago that I was able to medal like first on the podium in every single distance that I entered for two weeks or two weekends in a row? I think that to me is assurance that it’s possible, you know, like I can do it and it’s like whether or not I I’m going to peak at the right time. And I think that’s the piece, like, that’s the puzzle piece of figuring it out. And also just like making sure I hit all the training that I need to hit. You know, it’s it’s a lot of training, especially when you’re trying to train for like kind of like sprinting distances and then like the extreme long distances to team pursuit and mass starrt like, there’s so many different events, but at the same time, I feel like my character kind of brings that out, too. So I don’t know.
Anastasia: You’re a gutsy skater. You can see it on TV, even if you don’t know anything about the sport.You lay your heart on the ice.
We, of course, are having this conversation right on the tail of Canadian Championships, you won the 1500 metre, but you also were really candid. You were like, I haven’t felt that good. What do you make of that?
Ivanie Blondin: I actually think Shannon is the one that really like pulled me together that day
Anastasia: . Shannon Rempel, Yes.
Ivanie Blondin: I like that night after my after my thousand. Actually, I told Remmelt that I wasn’t skating the 15oo, and he was really upset about it. And like, we didn’t talk after that. He was just like, OK. That’s how the conversation ended. And then I was like, Screw this, like, I want nothing to do with this. Like, screw the 1500m. And like I was, I was done. Like in my mind, I was so done. And that was like a little bit of the old Ivanie that came out, jumping to conclusions like the thousand metre didn’t…. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t go as planned. You know, like, I feel like I should have won that race, but I didn’t. And part of that probably the three and a half hour hike I did the day before!
Anastasia:. Yeah. Let me tell you, I take it from a sprinter: do less.
Ivanie Blondin: Yeah, I know, I know, but I just …whatever anyways. And then Shannon, I showed up at the Oval and I had like, kind of like a flashback moment of anxiety, like I did not want to be at the Oval. My in my mindset was like, get in and out as fast as possible, so I showed at the very last minute to be able to warm up. I don’t do warm ups on ice. And so I showed up at like last minute, sat by my bike for like five minutes and then got on. And before I got on my bike, Shannon came to sit next to me and I had headphones in, hood up like I wanted nothing to do with anyone. And Shannon came in to sit next to me and she’s like, I know you feel like shit, but like, we have to focus on like points in your race, like technical cues that will get you through the race.
And that was for me, it was like it was not stepping with my left too far, and in the corners hips under, and keeping the shoulders tight, and not going to much from side to side and swaying like sometimes which I do when I’m tired. And those were the three points that I just thought of in the race. And it just, I think the fact that I was hyper focussed on those three points and once I was on the line, I think usually like I get to the line and, whatever happens off the ice, I can usually table it and like, I’m so focussed on winning all the time that it’s, that’s what happened that day.
Anastasia: But it was such a big bounce back. I mean, you won the 1500 metre, admittedly not feeling your best. You skated 1:54, which is incredibly competitive for mid-October with very few people in the stands. But what work have you done on yourself to heal yourself when it’s not coming? You know, because when races are coming in, you’re winning and you’re skating, well, it’s like, Oh yeah, it’s easy.
Ivanie Blondin: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know. Just focussing on the points of like technical cues to like off the ice, just like focussing on myself, like what can I do to, make my days better? And it’s been hard lately because like my husband’s not in town and he used to, for the past three years, we spent almost every single day together, every minute together, like training and competing on the road together, everything.
And this past season, because of COVID and also it being Olympic season, his team decided to keep him in Hungary. And training with the Hungarian team in Germany because they don’t have an oval in Hungary yet. We just got married in December and then all of a sudden we have to spend almost an entire year apart. So it’s difficult. And like his, his home is here, you know, like all his stuff is here, he’s in Hungary right now, but only with like the bare minimum of what he needs. Yeah. And like, I’ve got the bird and the dog it’s just it’s a lot. A lot of do walking.
Anastasia: You are going biking in Spain, though? You got a big training camp. What does that do? I am always interested in people’s relationship with their bikes?
Ivanie Blondin: I love cycling. At first, it was like a love hate relationship, actually when I was younger because I liked biking, but I would constantly, when I was first on the long track team, I was always getting dropped. I was always like, I couldn’t even like do like 60 kilometres without like crying and like…
Anastasia: You are speaking my language
Ivanie Blondin: . I know you too, you know what I’m talking about. But like, you know, over the years, I’ve just I’ve gotten better at cycling and like, now, I have this beautiful bike that I ride on. And it’s, yeah, I don’t know. I love cycling and like the places that it brings us as well. And like, we’re going to Spain. Like, how incredible is that? But also just like every, every single time in the past that I’ve gone either to Phoenix or somewhere warm or like Spain and then gone to compete right afterwards. I’ve always, like, accellerated so well, and I don’t know if it’s just like the mental break or just giving your body that break it needs from just being in position, you know? Oh yeah.
Sometimes I think speed skaters train too specifically for too long, and we don’t give our body breaks that it like needs to recover, physically to be able to perform. So for me, I’m like really looking forward to going to Spain and kind of putting the skates away for a week. And just biking and enjoying the scenery and enjoying the three hours of destroying myself on the bike
Anastasia: If you need a support vehicle, yeah, I’ll go. I will drink a lot of wine. Yeah, and prosciutto. I’ll eat lots of prosciutto, but I would be happy to go to Spain with you.
Ivanie Blondin: It’s funny, actually, because last time we did it, it was actually the week right before I won all those gold medals. And so for me, it’s like it. It’s bringing back kind of like those memories of like, we’re going back to Spain and I’m super excited. I don’t know. It’s just like the whole situation around Spain is like, it’s so exciting.
Anastasia: It‘s a nice feeling. You were so lovely too, you were quite candid while watching Tokyo 2020, and how that was a nice reset and also how much inspiration you got from some of the performances, of course. And you mentioned specifically Evan Dunfee. Yeah. So Evan came fourth, of course, in Rio. Yeah. And then walked away, no pun intended. I hate that I just said that, but he walked away with a bronze medal. What was so inspiring for you?,
Ivanie Blondin: I watched that entire race and not because of what happened in Rio for him, but just, I don’t know, he’s always been an athlete that’s very inspiring to me. He’s like, I feel like we’re very different personalities, but I see myself in him in a way, like the way he finished the race, and got on the podium was so inspiring to me because he came from, I think he was like fifth and then he was fourth, and then he kind of just like fiddled his way through and he was with. I can’t remember what his name is, another guy going back and forth for a while, and then he just, it’s like he found his other gear and it was just like, “No, I am getting that medal!” and the motivation that I saw in that race, how he finished that race, it was inspiring. Like, I want to be in those shoes, you know? I want to be Evan Dunfee! I don’t know. I got a lot of inspiration just from that one moment and that one race. It was just satisfying to watch, you know, like it gives me butterflies and I think about it and I think it’s such a special moment for him. But like for all of us, like to experience that with him was cool.
Anastasia: You CAN be Evan Dunfee. I mean, you can be Ivanie Blondin, but you know, Beijing is a few months away. How much pressure do you put on yourself not to obsess over the Olympics every day? It’s so hard.
Ivanie Blondin: It is hard. But like I said, like, I don’t know. I feel like I’m almost like, I’m at peace with what happened previously and like, of course, I want my revenge, but in a way like, I feel more at peace than I did, obviously back then.
What happens at the Olympics or what happens in skating? Iit’s not going to frame my entire life, you know? Like, there’s things outside of skating that are just as important. And I don’t know. I think as an athlete to come to that realisation, I think is really important and to not put too much pressure on yourself, too. So I don’t know. As long as I go to the games and I do my best, I think I need to be proud of myself either way. Versus last time, It’s like I tried to do my best, but it didn’t work out and I felt like a disgrace.
Anastasia: So I can promise you that you are not a disgrace, and I can say with confidence that you will do your best. [Parrot flutters in] Is he going to bite me? He might. Oh, OK. Gizmo, thank you for leaving. Yeah he was laughing at some darker moments in what you were saying! (laughs)
So what happens between now and going to China?
Ivanie Blondin: We are going to Spain for a week and then we go to Poland for World Cup number one, And then Norway for World Cup number two and then we come home for a week. We’re supposed to go to Salt Lake, but I heard rumours it might be two weekends in Calgary in a bubble. We’re not sure yet.
Anastasia: There’s a lot of worries COVID 19.
Ivanie Blondin: I know. I think it’s like the reasoning behind that is it’s really hard for certain countries to get visas to get into the states. Yeah. And with different vaccinations and whatnot. So we’re not quite sure exactly what’s going to happen there. But if it’s two weekends in Calgary, I think I’d be happy with that. Like, I love skating Salt Lake. It is probably my favourite ice to skate on. It’s so grippy and I don’t know, maybe the fact that I skate always in Calgary. Maybe I take that for granted, but Salt Lake for me, I love that ice surface, and it feels so good to skate there. So, yeah, so we’ll see. And then after that, depending on if I’m pre-qualified or not, I would potentially either go to Mexico with the Hungarian team or to Quebec City to qualify spots that I’m not qualified in.
Anastasia: So very cool. So you’re busy. You’re a busy, woman, of course. But you know what? We actually just connected with a bunch of the legends from yesteryear like Kristina Groves and Catreona Le May Doan, and Shannon Rempel, of course. I’ve spoken to Cindy Klaessen, and they’re so excited for this team.
Ivanie Blondin: Yeah it’s insane.
Anastasia: There’s something really special going on.
Ivanie Blondin: Yeah, the depth too that we have is incredible, like the men’s 1500 or the men’s 1000m men’s 500m. Like every single distance right now, I feel like it’s like jacked. Yeah, and it’s we haven’t had that for a long time. Like we would have one distance that we’d have, three or four skaters that were performing really well. But the feel that we have now is like insane. And we don’t know what’s going to happen, you know, like. And also, just like the young ones like, for example, like Cédrick Brunet, how he just he qualified in the five hundred and like, it’s so incredible the fact that he was able to do that. He got like a second PB or something knowing and then the next day, like people were like, you know, like, maybe it’s a one off race that he did this. And then the next day, he skated a 35.0 So it’s like it wasn’t just a one off race.
Anastasia: How does it feel? How does it feel to be such a leader on the team now?
Ivanie Blondin: I still see myself a little bit as a rookie for some reason.
Anastasia: Don’t ever lose that. Yeah.
Ivanie Blondin: And yeah, that’s like I was been around the block, although you’re probably a rookie, but I was I was a rookie for so long that I still feel like I like if someone were to call me like rookie. Like, I’d be like, Yeah, whatever. Just another day, you know? So I don’t know. It’s it like in a way, I do feel kind of like the mother hen taking care of the ducklings and whatnot sometimes and especially when things go sideways, like in our training group or if someone’s struggling and sometimes it’s hard lessons. But at the same time, I feel like when I was younger, I got hard lessons from Nesbitt and Britt and you and all the the older girls that came before me. So I don’t know, I feel like it. It’s kind of natural for me to to like, want to take care of other people or…
Anastasia: Well, you’re good with animals! and all the ducklings and you’ve got Gizmo right on right here. So yeah, so that’s quite poetic.. Thank you so much for taking the time to be on the podcast. This is the most animal friendly podcast we’ve done, and I like it. I got my support animals. Thanks, Gizmo. Thanks, Brooke. Peace. [Parrot says Remmelt!]
And just because he deserves a moment uninterrupted. Here are some of gizmo’s greatest hits I recorded while we were chatting. I swear on a stack of crackers, every laugh and cough and buzz and whistle and the very last word? That’s all Gizmo…
Gizmo the parrot: [ says Remmelt a few times, whistles, imitates the phone, whistles the ‘charge’ theme, then says ‘Scores!’ like a hockey announcer]
Anastasia: Scores! That’s how you know we recorded that conversation in Calgary.
There are video scenes of this chat to at CBC Sports on YouTube.
Player’s Own Voice podcast is a CBC Sports production.
Social media #Player’s Own Voice.
My handle is Anastasure.
Olivia Pasquarelli is in the Editor’s Chair.
Our theme music is by Adam Blnov.
David Giddens is our producer.
Thanks for listening.