He had his breakthrough year last season, crushing the 10,000m world record to take the ISU World Speed Skating title at age 22 in Salt Lake City. The future looked bright for Graeme Fish (CAN) last February, but like so many others he had to put his ambitions on hold when the international sports world came to a halt due to COVID-19. Canadian Speed Skating received another blow when the Calgary Olympic Oval was closed in September due to a mechanical issue. How does the 10,000m ISU World Speed Skating Champion keep up the good spirit and where does he skate these days?
When we get to speak to Fish, the Canadian Speed Skating squad is staying in Fort St. John, which hosts the only other covered Speed Skating oval in Canada outside Calgary. Together with his national team colleagues the 10,000m ISU World Speed Skating Champion trains at the Pomeroy Sport Centre. “We’re really happy to come here and skate,” he says.
“We were able to skate at the oval in Calgary in August, but after the mechanical failure in September we did not have ice anymore.”
Team Canada at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (JPN) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
The Canadian team was not able to skate on a long track oval for over a month in October. “We did some inline skating on the oval in Calgary, but it’s not the same” Fish explains. “And we’ve been doing a lot of Short Track. I do enjoy Short Track. I’ve been doing it all my life, but long track is different.”
Before the mechanical mishap at the Calgary Oval, training conditions had been more difficult than usual already. Like all international colleagues the Canadians had to cope with COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s annoying. You obviously can’t hang out with friends, but when it comes to training, we’ve been doing what we could.
“The first two months after last season finished, I’ve been at home in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan (about 700 kilometers east of Calgary). Usually we don’t skate in that time of year so I could basically do my regular training.
“Getting back to Calgary in June, we did a lot of dry-land stuff and cycling. We were not allowed to bike together, so I did a lot of solo rides.
“During training we have to wear face masks. It actually looks worse than it is, because we’ve got these new types of masks, which do not really restrict your breathing.”
As an athlete Fish craves for competition, so the cancellation of the first four ISU World Cup Speed Skating events in November and December was a big disappointment. How does he manage to stay focused?
Graeme Fish (CAN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating Final 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
“The whole situation… it sucks. For me this is the time to try and find a way to stay motivated. Luckily enough I’ve always liked training. Of course I really do miss racing, but when you like the physical exercise itself, it’s not hard to get up and go training each day.”
How does he feel physically compared to previous years?
“We did bike tests after summer training and those tests proved that I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. But technically, on the ice, I’m not as good as last year yet.”
Graeme Fish (CAN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (BLR) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
Not having been able to skate on a long track oval much, did not help. Fish: “The coaches have really done a great job adapting to the situation and we’ve been working on those things as much as we could. It’s a minor technical issue. I’m not able to get my hip over on my right side as much as I do on my left. Together with my physiotherapist, I’ve been working to strengthen the muscles and get it sorted and I’m already improving.”
After a few weeks of training at the Pomeroy Sport Centre in Fort St. John, the Canadian Speed Skating team returns to Calgary. Fish hopes to be able to skate at the Olympic Oval in January again, but he also looks forward to international racing in Heerenveen, which probably will be his first taste of competition this season.
Ted-Jan Bloeman (CAN), Graeme Fish (CAN), Patrick Beckert (GER) at the ISU World Single Dinstances Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
As reigning ISU World Speed Skating Champion Fish may not have bothered too much about the possible cancellation of the ISU World Speed Skating Championships this year, because he would have carried that title for one more year at least?
“No, that’s not how I look at it. I’m really pleased that the World Championships (which were originally scheduled in Beijing in February) will go ahead in Heerenveen.
“I still don’t really look at myself as a World Champion, I know I am, but still. It’s always better to skate and lose the title than not have World Championships at all.”
Graeme Fish (CAN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (CAN) 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
With the current season not even having started yet, Fish’s already looks ahead at 2022 for his main target as a Speed Skater: the Olympic Games in Beijing. As a long-distance specialist he aims at the 5,000m and the 10,000m.
“The 10,000m really is my favorite. The longer the better.”