Ottawa’s Isabelle Weidemann Goes For Gold
Isabelle Weidemann is a runner, a travel lover, a rock climber, and a big fan of the outdoors (especially Ottawa’s outdoors, where she grew up). She’s an ambassador with Fast and Female, an organization dedicated to keeping teenage girls healthy, happy, and active. But what makes Isabelle a local success story is that she is a world class speed skater who has had the best year of her career. As a member of Team Canada, she has traveled across the globe to compete in the Winter Olympics, the ISU World Cup where she won gold, and the Women’s Long Track World Cup where she won silver. We had the chance to ask her everything from her training regimen, to her favourite offseason hobbies, to the emotions she felt on the day she won her first individual gold medal.
At just 23, Isabelle is humble, hard-working, and ready for whatever the next four years of training hold.
You took up speed skating when you were 12. What got you into the sport? You also played many other competitive sports in high school, but what is the unique aspect of speed skating for you?
My family was introduced to the sport through a family friend. I thought it sounded so cool, so I asked my parents to sign me up. I’ve always loved sport, so I grew up playing and competing in whatever I could. As I grew older, it became more apparent that the sport of speed skating played to my athletic strengths. I love that it is a combination of technique and physical ability, and I’ve always been drawn to the speed.
How did it feel to win your first individual gold medal in the 3,000m event at the ISU World Cup in November 2018? Who did you call first when you won?
I had to watch the times of the final pairs after me before I knew where I stood in the standings. I might have been more nervous sitting on the side waiting than I was before my race! It felt amazing to step on the podium. I was ecstatic, happy, overwhelmed- all the feelings. It can be crazy at the oval; we do press and doping control, I also cool down on my bike for 45 minutes and debrief with my coach. I called my parents the morning after because of the time change from Japan. I have a very incredible support team of family and friends, and they often get up in the middle of the night to watch. I’m very lucky.
Take us through your training leading up to this championship in Japan; how do you prepare for a competition at this level?
We train almost year-round. It’s busy! We log a lot of hours road cycling, and of course, we skate thousands of laps. We lift weights, we do dryland and I practice a lot of yoga (to stay sane). I train full time with a long-distance girls group (including Ottawa native, Ivanie Blondin).
2018 was a busy year for you. You also competed on the world stage in the PyeongChang Olympics. There, you finished fourth with the team pursuit, and placed inside the top-seven in both the 3000m and 5000m. How did it feel to achieve this success in your Olympic debut?
It was a pretty crazy year- but one I’m very grateful for. The Olympics were incredible and indescribably amazing. A dream come true. As amazing as they were, I struggled to find excitement and happiness in my own results. I didn’t skate the way I feel that I was capable of, and my times weren’t good enough to push the top three (a stinging fact). I have been sixth in the world for the past three years now; and that’s be a tough pill to swallow. After taking time away from the ice in our off season, I feel much more at peace with those races. I am proud of all the work I did leading up to the games and I am very proud of our team. I’m looking forward to what the next four years throws my way.
What was the most memorable part for you in PyeongChang?
There are too many good memories from the Olympics! I loved competing with my teammates in the team pursuit. I loved having my family from Ottawa in the stands cheering me on. For me, a memory that will forever encapsulate the Canadian spirit and the Olympic games will be the celebration after the closing ceremonies in Canada house. The Arkells performed for all the athletes and we had a blast.
Who is your role model?
I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by some incredible people. I’ve got too many role models to count. Speed Skaters: Kristina Groves, Christine Nesbitt, and teammates Tori Spence and Jordan Belchos – to name only a few.
What are your favourite memories from growing up in Ottawa?
I have too many favourite memories! I loved skating on the canal with my family (surprise), going to the museum of nature, and going to the Tulip Festival. Canada Day in Ottawa is something I don’t get the opportunity to celebrate very often anymore (we’re usually away at a training camp); those festivities are hard to top anywhere else.
When you have free time off from training, what do you enjoy doing in Ottawa when you are here? What are your favourite places to eat in the city?
Ottawa is a great place to be outside. One of the things I miss the most when training in Calgary is the path along the Ottawa River. There’s so much history in Ottawa and running along that path below the parliament buildings always feels like home. The Art Gallery Café holds special memories for me. It has a beautiful view and I loved having lunch there with my grandmother and my cousin growing up.
You love spending time outdoors and have had the opportunity to travel to many exciting places. What are your three favourite places you’ve been?
Inzell, Germany is one of my favourites. It’s a little Bavarian town in the south of Germany full of picturesque and beautiful chalets. Quebec City is another I’ve got a soft spot for. Old Quebec is beautiful and the oval there is one I grew up competing at as a kid. Tomakomai, Japan will always be special as well. The culture is really interesting, and their people incredibly kind. It was also where I received my first individual medal, and skated my first outdoor world cup, so I’ll never forget it.
Do you have any secret talents?
I can solve a Rubix cube… although I’m not sure that’s a secret talent. And way less of a talent, more a work-in-progress hobby, I love to rock climb. Although I don’t get to do it very often in our competition season, rock climbing is my refuge in the offseason.
Do you really eat the same breakfast every morning?
Most people laugh at this fact, but I’ve eaten oatmeal practically every morning for the past 6 years. I even bring it on the World Cup tour with me so I can start my race days right. It’s weird, I know, but it’s one of my favorite comforts.
Lastly, what advice would you give to others on reaching their goals in sport?
Having participated in a lot of sports growing up, and not picking one or specializing early has given me an advantage. My advice would be to “try everything”, because had I not, I might not have found speed skating. It’s easy to work hard and feel fulfilled when you’re passionate about what you do. I love what I do.