HEERENVEEN, Netherlands | Living the apotheosis by winning silver at the Beijing Games, Laurent Dubreuil not only retains good memories of his Olympic experiences, which sometimes turned into a nightmare.
• Also read: Laurent Dubreuil: history within reach
• Also read: Speed skating: Laurent Dubreuil joins a select club
The road to the 2018 Pyeongchang Games was particularly difficult and the results are a testament to that. He finished 18th in the 500m and 25th in the 1000m.
“I showed up in Korea in the worst possible conditions and my Olympic experience was ruined,” Dubreuil summarizes. Those were the worst moments of my career. It was impossible to be good after living two miserable months. It was frustrating to get results like this. »
Dubreuil, who qualified for Pyeongchang, found himself with a sword of Damocles hanging over his head.
His teammate William Dutton appealed to the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada (SDRCC), stating that he should have been kept at Dubreuil’s expense.
“I’ve never been so stressed, even though I was convinced that I would keep my place,” emphasized the skater from Lévis. I experienced unbearable stress. I had no control. With encounters that could happen at any time, I arrived in Korea exhausted. »
Dutton, now an assistant coach with the Canada team, didn’t win the case, but the damage was done for Dubreuil, who nevertheless ended his season with a silver medal in the second 500m at the World Sprint Championships in China.
“I rediscovered the joy of ice skating and a bit of luck at the World Championships. »
Missing Sochi due to dust
Four years earlier, Dubreuil had missed the 2014 games in Sochi by 0.04s.
Canada retained the top four skaters in the selection and the Université Laval communications student finished fifth.
A few weeks before the selection, Dubreuil learned that his father, Robert, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“It was a shock, but the news from my father didn’t affect my chances. My absence from Sochi hurt. It didn’t work at all. I was stuck in 15th place in the World Cup. I changed everything over the summer. My boots, my runners, my technique and my mental approach, it’s all there. »
Dubreuil believes a new mental approach was the most important factor.
He bounced back with a World Championships bronze medal in 2015 and won his first five World Cup medals in the 2014/15 season.
“I was jaded and accepted 15th place. The excuse that I was young and had to take one step at a time snuffed out my desire to win. It was okay to finish 15th when I was 20 when I was trying to win when I was 19. »
“I told myself I was trying too hard and had too much talent to settle for 15th and my expectations were rising. If I had had the same ambitions in 2014, I wouldn’t have missed the Sochi games. »
One of his strengths
Gregor Jelonek shares the view of his protégé.
“For the first time in his career, Laurent felt he had something to lose if he had everything to qualify,” said the National Center for Eastern Canada coach. He was a little afraid of not being classified. »
Jelonek already saw the difference in 2015.
“He restored that aspect where he was able to perform when the situation called for it. Laurent responds to challenges. He tells himself he has more to gain than lose and has learned a lot from the 2014 experience. When a skater puts down a good time, it motivates them to go faster. It’s one of his strengths. »
Like it doesn’t age
Photo Didier Debusschere
Laurent Dubreuil at the Center de Glaces de Quebec for a weights session on January 2nd.
If skaters typically have their prime between 22 and 27, Laurent Dubreuil was more likely to unblock after blowing out his 28 candles.
“I’ve never seen an athlete with exceptional genetics like Laurent,” says his fitness trainer at the National Center Jonathan Pelletier-Ouellet. Since 2019 he has never stopped improving indoors. It will stop one day, but we haven’t reached the cap yet. »
After his success on the youth scene, where he won two medals in 2012, Laurent Dubreuil was convinced he could dominate the leap to the pros. However, his certainties were shattered after a difficult few seasons.
“When I was 18 or 19, I thought I could be dominant like I’ve been for three years, but after the difficult years leading up to the 2018 Games, I stopped believing in it,” Dubreuil said.
“It would have been almost insane to keep believing that I could be dominant. While skaters know their best years between 22 and 27, I went a few years without any improvement before I unblocked it. »
If Dubreuil had any doubts, his trainer Gregor Jelonek assures him that he always believed that his protégé could become one of the best in the world.
“I never doubted his potential,” assures the coach, who has been overseeing Dubreuil’s development since 2009. My anxiety was at the level of his back injury. »
“You can’t accidentally finish fourth at your first Senior World Cup,” added Jelonek. Already two fourth places at his first junior world championship and his world record were impressive. I knew it was real. »
Hatching without blushing
The two World Cups and the 2021 World Cup, disputed in the Heerenveen bubble, allowed the hatching of Dubreuil, who has never blushed since.
The Lévis skater, who has worked with fitness coach Jonathan Pelletier-Ouellet since the summer of 2019 and recently became a father, won four World Cup medals before winning gold in the 500m and bronze in the 1000m two weeks later.
It would have taken little time to have snubbed Dubreuil’s opportunity to go to the Netherlands. Speed Skating Canada (SPC) High Performance Committee wanted the Canadian team to skip the event due to the pandemic, but General Manager Susan Auch reversed the decision.
A decision that changes everything
The skaters had the choice to go or not without paying penalties for those who stayed at home.
“It was a key moment in my career,” said Dubreuil. […] There were zero cases of COVID-19 in a sealed bubble where no one was vaccinated. Only the amateurs were missing. It was one of my best trips ever. »
“My performances have confirmed that my achievements in 2020 were no accident and my presence in the bubble is directly linked to my eight medals in eight 500m races in the fall of 2022,” continued Dubreuil, who isn’t shy to denounce the hesitation of PVC on our sides a few days before the decision is known.
IT AGES LIKE GOOD WINE
- January 2012 in Salt Lake City, junior world record
- November 2014 in South Korea, first medal (bronze over 500 m) in the World Cup
- November 2017 in Heerenveen, first individual gold medal in the World Cup
- February 2020 in Norway, silver medal overall in the Sprint World Championship
- February 2021 in the Netherlands, bronze medal over 1000 m of the World Championship distance
- February 2021 in the Netherlands, gold medal over 500 m of the world championship distance
- March 2022 in the Netherlands, 500m World Cup winner overall
- February 2022 in Beijing, silver medal over 1000 m at the Olympic Games
- February 2023 in Poland, champion of the cumulative 500m World Cup rankings for the second year in a row.
Become the oldest to win gold
In the best shape of his life and still looking to make progress, Laurent Dubreuil sees far and doesn’t think he’ll stop there even when he hits the thirties milestone.
“I’m more likely than not to be on the starting line at the 2030 Olympics,” he said. I don’t think it will be possible to aim for victory, but I’ll keep going as long as I’m fine, love my sport and can balance work and family life. »
Ruling out chances of winning in 2030 at 37, however, Dubreuil is confident he can aim for great success at the 2026 Cortina d’Ampezzo games.
“Without the pressure of already having an Olympic medal, it’s realistic to believe in my chances. 2026 could be my last chance to win an Olympic medal. »
A goal motivates Dubreuil to continue his career as long as possible.
“I would like to be the oldest skater to win gold in the 500m and 1000m at the World Championships. That’s a little stressful for me because Lee Kyou-hyuk was almost 33 years old when he won his last 500 meter race. [mars 2011] and Hein Otterspeer, at 34, is the oldest in the 1000 meter race. »
What does his close guard think?
“Laurent is a stats guy and he can see it’s rare that a 35-year-old sprinter still dominates, but he’ll only be 33 in 2026 and has the potential to win even if he’s among the older, emphasizes his trainer Gregor Jelonek. Young people grow, but Laurent takes it as a challenge. It motivates him instead of bothering him. »
Jelonek is convinced that Dubreuil still has very good years ahead of them.
“It’s time to make the most of it because you can win every race. His Olympic medal and world title are taking the pressure off and he needs to use it. »