Ottawa’s Vincent De Haître is currently training to make Olympic history in the next two years.
The now 26-year old, who grew up in Cumberland, is already a 2-time Olympic speed skater. But here’s the catch: he’s also a national track cycling champion who is on-track (no pun intended) for the 2021 Summer Olympics.
Vincent is poised and training to be a dual-sport Olympian, something that only a handful of Canadians have ever done.
As the pandemic postponed the 2020 Olympics, this moved Vincent’s goal to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics from a feat that has only been achieved by few, to a goal that has never been done before in Olympic history.
Vincent will compete in both the upcoming Summer and Winter Olympics, with only 181 days in between closing and opening ceremonies. He’ll have about 6 weeks from the end of the Summer Olympics to the beginning of trials for Olympic speed skating.
It’s a lot of pressure, but it is clear that Vincent knows himself, his sports, and what he needs to do. And despite having an enormous goal he is aspiring to achieve, Vincent knows the importance of small victories when it comes to training and everyday life.
We caught up with the Capital’s dual-sport Olympian to discuss how he found his passion for both sports, and how he is preparing to take on a feat described as ‘nearly impossible’.
You grew up in Cumberland. What are some of your favourite memories of growing up there?
My favourite memories of growing up in Cumberland were going to the public arena. I would ride my bike there and skate during some of the public ice times for like, two dollars. I was always riding my bike around the neighbourhood. Which was fairly spread out… we weren’t really close to anything. It would take me 15 minutes to ride to the nearest corner store.
When did you first discover speed skating? And when did you know that it was what you wanted to do?
I first discovered speed skating when I was going to public skating with my kindergarten class after school in Cumberland. One of the dads had a family friend who speed-skated, and they told my parents that I seemed to like to skate, and suggested it. We found the Gloucester Concordes Speed Skating Club, and I started skating then. But it wasn’t till about age 12 that I knew I really wanted to pursue it at a higher level.
Tell us about your childhood and teen years, balancing speedskating, track cycling, and school and normal life. Something had to give, what was it?
If something had to give, it was the normal kid life. I didn’t do too many school sports. I tried doing Track and Field but it never really fit into my schedule. I tried wrestling in grade 7 and I only did that for a few months before I got injured skating. I still tried to do the wrestling competition, and I made my injury worse… the coach ended up pulling me out of the competition because I couldn’t walk anymore but I was still trying to wrestle (laughs).
I started cycling with a club when I was 16 and before that it was BMX Racing, but that was only in the summer and it was only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so it was pretty easy to balance that.
As a skater in Ottawa, you can’t really skate that often because all of the ice times are pretty well booked for hockey. So for speed skaters, we could skate like twice a week for a total of three hours. So growing up with that, performance wise, it’s not ideal, but for what we had and for getting people interested… it was. Because kids won’t usually take an interest in something if you tell them, ‘hey, you’re going to be doing this five times a week for ten hours’.
So I did have a bit of an open schedule for a lot of other stuff, but I was still busy overall. In my second to last year of high school, I went to Calgary four times in one year. I would leave on Thursday evening and then I’d be there Friday, race Saturday and Sunday, and come back and go Monday to school.
Who were some of the most influential people in your early career?
My parents. I can’t even begin to describe everything they’ve done to support me. The constant driving to practice, paying the bills… it was a lot, but they saw it as an investment in my future as a person. It gave me something to focus on, and goals to strive for. They taught me the value of seeing things through. Of owning up to your own decisions, planning things, and really sticking to it. Those were all lessons my parents taught me through sport.
What was it like to be the youngest member of Team Canada’s speedskating team in 2014. You were surprised that you even qualified. Tell me about that experience?
I did Junior Worlds the year before, and I ended up qualifying for the development team for the following season, which was the Olympic season. I qualified for Calgary and Salt Lake World cups, but because we had an extra quota spot, I ended up qualifying fifth, which means I could go. Normally they just take four but in this case they took five because it was a home World Cup. And so I did a 1500m race in Calgary and Salt Lake City, which are two ovals that I’ve already skated at other events, so it was still like racing on my home ice the whole time.
Going into the Olympic Trials, I ended up winning the 1,000m race which I had finished 7th in at the fall trials. And then placing third in the 1500m race which I came fifth in at the fall trials. It was a bit of a surprise to win at trials.
I knew the plan was to be at my best for trials. Most other athletes at the highest level don’t try and be their best at trials, because they want to be their best at the Olympics. You can’t just be at your best all the time, so you have to really pick and choose your events. Some of the top athletes can be at 90% of what they can do and still win. But I ended up messing that up for a couple of them.
But that set me up for the rest of my career. Because I had done well at trials and gone to the Olympics, I then was retroactively given national team funding.
Tell me about how the pandemic put a wrench in your plan to compete at both the Summer and Winter olympics.
It took something that few people have done, that was already very challenging, and made it into something that no one has ever done, that is nearly impossible.
The hard part is the turnaround time between both games and between trials. I have about 180 days between closing ceremonies from one Olympics to the opening ceremonies of the next.
In those days, I only have 6 weeks for the first trials from the closing ceremonies to the first trials for the winter olympics.
To finish top two or preferably first in Canada. And then I have another 8 weeks before the next trials. It’s a really short turnaround time, and that’s essentially the biggest challenge.
So I likely won’t have a good performance until the Olympics… if I can find my way there.
You’re currently in Calgary. What does your training routine look like right now?
We’ve been allowed to start training somewhat together, wearing masks, but essentially the only thing I’ve done indoors in the last two months is ride my bike. Everything else I do outdoors. I skate outdoors, I do my running and jumping outdoors… I can’t really jump in my apartment because it shakes the building (laughs). But basically I do everything outdoors except ride my bike, which is the one thing I’d rather do outdoors (laughs).
I train mostly alone or within proximity of my teammates. I’m working both with my cycling and skating teams to develop a training plan that meets the demands of each sport. I’ve just spent a big block of time in skating and I have a few days off right now, and I’ll be starting my prep to get ready to do the first cycling camp in a few weeks.
What are you looking forward to the most about the 2021 Olympics?
The end of the waiting. Not in a bad way, but… we were four months away, focused on doing it, and then all of a sudden we’re like ‘ah actually, one more year.’
It was about thinking that something is right there and then all of a sudden it’s not, and you have to keep on it.
At the same time, it’s a bit of a blessing in disguise. Our team has been improving, and we’ve definitely seen some gains that could be made and we’re changing our program accordingly to make the team faster when the Olympics come around.
So we’re hoping for a decent performance, and it’s nice that we have the time to do it. At the same time, it’s hard to stay on it for that long.
For athletes, things are really time sensitive. You can only do your sport for so long, and everyone has different years where they’re good. So, the challenge is that we’ve had to do another full year and have had to hope that in that year there are no injuries. And hope that in that year, we get all the training we need in. So, that’s really been the challenging part… the waiting a year, and being expected to perform even though we will not have raced since the World Championships in February of 2020. The next race is the Olympics in August 2021. Which is over a year since our last competition.
From reading and watching your interviews, it’s clear that you are very driven and very competitive with yourself. How do you manage that intense pressure you put on yourself, and make sure that it stays positive? Not negative?
Whenever there is a circumstance in front of me, and I know that something I’m about to do is not going to be fun, and I’m not going to enjoy doing it, I remember that by doing it I will be setting a building block to become better later on. Because that’s what your training is: you’re setting building blocks so that you’re better later on. Until it’s later on and it’s the race and you’re like “okay, I have everything I need, I’m prepared.” But until then, all your doing is training so that you can do a different training session later on. For example, you work on strength so you can do speed later.
So all of these things work together. And athletes are basically just big legos. You just keep putting things together until things work.
No matter how unpleasant a training session is going to be in my mind, I like to think that at the end of it, I’ve reached 100% of the enjoyment I could have gotten out of it. So maybe the session had very little enjoyment to be had. But I found 100% of it and I took that. I try to think of it that way.
So it’s really just being clear on the program and knowing what’s expected and what you can do, and having clear goals.
How important has and is goal setting to your success as a dual-sport Olympian?
The big thing is setting multiple goals. Not just end goals, but also process goals. For example, I want to move my hip a certain way to achieve a certain position, and if I can do that 90% of the time, I’ll be very happy. And that’s a small goal. A big goal is I want to go to the Olympics in less than a year. But there’s loads of goals inside of that, so you always have something to work towards. And it’s not just having that one goal at the end and it seeming so far away that you don’t know how to relate it to what you’re doing right now. You need to have little goals all along the way.
You have to make sure you have both big and small, easy and hard goals… so if you’re having a really bad day, then you can just start focusing on the easy goals, and then you have a bunch of small victories to work your day around.
What is your best advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?
Um, don’t do it during a pandemic (laughs). I would say be very clear with your national team or national teams about what you plan to accomplish. It has to be a team effort.