“I literally owe my life to speed skating,” says Laurent Dubreuil. Both his father and mother were Olympic speed skaters back in 1988 and 1992. “That’s how they met”, Dubreuil laughs. The 25-year-old sprinter started the Olympic Speed Skating season with his maiden 500m World Cup win in Heerenveen in November. For Dubreuil the perfect race is as much art as it is sports.
Get lower, push harder
Dubreuil’s mother, Ariane Loignon, competed in long track at the 1988 Calgary Games, and his father did short track as a demonstration sport in 1988 and long track at the 1992 Games in Albertville, France. His parents still are Laurent’s mental compass, he says:
“There’s few people I fully trust technically when it comes to speed skating and my parents are two of them. My mum’s been one of my coaches when I was younger. She used to coach a whole group at the regional center in Quebec. My father never really coached me but he’s always been around skating. He has been CEO of the Quebec Skating federation for twenty years. They’re a bit old school in their analysis sometimes. At outdoor rinks my dad always used to say: when the wind is blowing hard, get lower and push harder. But old school as it may be, if my mum or dad says something about my technique, they’re probably right. They know their speed skating, and they helped me a lot with the mental aspect too.
“My parents never wanted a career in speed skating for me, they just wanted me to be happy. Some parents try to live their dream through their kids, I don’t think that’s healthy. My parents just supported me. They’ve always been super relaxed in sports. It was always the effort that was praised in my family, not the result. Sometimes I would win and my dad would tell me how bad a race it was, because I did not try hard enough, or get up before the line. And sometimes I would lose, but go hard through the line and he would be proud.”
Two sets of team mates
As a kid Dubreuil started skating in short track, but he chose to do long track when he was fourteen years old. He still trains and lives in his home town Levis in Quebec but during the international season he travels with the Canadian team too:
“We didn’t have an indoor oval and it was minus twenty degrees outside, too cold to go skating, so I did a lot of short track indoor. Short track is bigger than long track in the province of Quebec. I did both when I was young, but when I was 14 years old I had a couple of concussions with crashes in short track. I fell because I was hit by others. I can live with me screwing up and falling on my own, but someone hitting me… I chose to go on in long track.”
“We were often on the road all over Canada, often in Calgary. Nowadays I train with the Canadian selection in Calgary, in August and September, but I also still train in Quebec, which gives me two different sets of team mates. Some of the guys I train with back home don’t do World Cups, but we are a close group. Alex Boisvert-Lacroix and Alexandre St-Jean also skate with me in Quebec. On the road there’s also Denny Morrison, William Dutton, Ted-Jan Bloemen. They’re not my team mates during the summer, but I get along with both sets of team mates. We’ve got an internal competition which makes us all better, but we are friends too. When one of my team mates does well, I’m really happy for him.”
The art of speed skating
Dubreuil started the season in spectacular fashion winning the second 500m race at the opening leg of the ISU World Cup series in Heerenveen. He thinks the 500m field is very competitive in the current Olympic season:
“In 2014/15, I had my best season so far and if I had a bad race I would still be top ten. Now that’s impossible. In the second 500m at the World Cup in Stavanger the gap between the winner and the number 16 was only 0.4 seconds. There’s no room for mistakes, you need to bring it every day. There’s at least 15 guys contending for an Olympic gold medal and the guy who eventually wins, may not even be on my current list.”
How will Dubreuil maintain his early season form until February?
“Usually I’m a skater who is good throughout the year. We figured out that once racing starts, I don’t need to train much. Then I would get too tired and it wouldn’t do any good. My starts tend to become faster during the season and it’s already been quite fast, 9.64. I think I can get it down to 9.5 but I try not to think about the times too much because it keeps you away from the process.”
The mental aspect is key:
“You have to believe, that’s the main point. Athletes are artists. Of course training is science and numbers, but there’s an artistic part to it as well. If everything is too controlled, if there’s too much thinking in numbers the magic will be gone. You need to train, but you also need the spark, the passion in your eyes.
“The moments that I felt that passion the fullest were the best races in my career. It’s something you cannot control for 100 percent. You have to find a way to channel it. For me it’s important to have creative power in my training. I discuss my program with my coaches, because if my program is too strict and I’m not free to chose what I do, I feel trapped like a bird in a cage. I need to have a say to feel that freedom in my head.”
Speed skating chats
Together with Canada team mate William Dutton, Dubreuil started Speed Skating Chats, a Youtube series in which the skaters comment on races and developments in international speed skating:
“We aim to be funny and insightful, but not too serious. We want it to be interesting for people who don’t know much about speed skating, but we want it to be interesting for people who skate World Cup races themselves too. We want the biggest audience possible.”