De Haître: 2 sports, 2 Olympic Games, 7 months. Challenge accepted.
Going for two Olympic Games in two sports in seven months.
If that’s all you knew, you’d call me crazy. So, let’s take a step back and see what brought me here.
If you’re reading this, you probably know that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games have been pushed to the summer of 2021. You likely also know that some athletes are being faced with possible retirement, injuries, and funding challenges.
So, this is my story on how I plan to navigate my career, balancing cycling and speed skating as well as life.
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If I had to sum up my background, I’d say I’m an overly competitive speed skater who likes riding his bike too much. From the moment I started racing in either sport, I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics and it was just a matter of planning when I would make a run at it.
I tested the water at a junior level. After competing at Sochi 2014 in speed skating, I competed at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in track cycling. There I got to see what I what was going to need from myself to make it to the Olympics as a cyclist.
So, while pursuing speed skating from 2014 to 2018 I continued to dabble in track cycling, competing at the 2016 Nationals. I made it clear to both national sport federations that after the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang I would commit 2018-2020 to making a run at the Summer Games in Tokyo. This transition was aided by the fact that I was always open about what my goals were and I called my shots every step of the way.
I’ve always wanted to prove that I was an athlete first. Not a speed skater, not a cyclist. I’m an athlete. The skills that make you a good athlete, such as focus, dedication, commitment, physical literacy, and critical thinking are universal and will take you much further than you can imagine.
That being said, my switch to cycling was not seamless. You could say I rode the “struggle bus” on several, if not most, group rides on the road. Without a doubt, this only pushed me to rely more on my experience and focus my energy on performing when it matters most. This was a two-part plan to make sure the team could see me as a reliable racer, but also give me the chance to not overcook myself with the different training load distribution in cycling.
This bring us to more recent times.
I am happy to say that I’m the first person to hold the 1000m national records in both sports. I spent this past season competing on the track cycling World Cup circuit as a member of the Canadian team pursuit squad and made my world championship debut on a bike.
Then, March 24 happened. That’s the day I found out about the Olympic postponement due to COVID-19’s impact on public health and safety.
It was a relief and a nightmare, all in one. I was left with “Great they’re not canceled.” and “S^*!, how am I supposed to qualify and compete for the 2022 Winter Games less than seven months after that?” going through my head.
So here I was, with three options, none of which are ideal.
Option 1: Stay with cycling, because I’ve already committed two years and the extra time will only play to my advantage of continuing my development in the sport. But I risk not qualifying or having a bad performance at the 2022 Games.
Option 2: Leave cycling and come back to it after the 2022 Games, essentially the equivalent giving up to hedge my bets on speed skating.
Option 3: Face this hurdle head on and bet on myself as an athlete, using everything I know to create and communicate a possible plan with the help of both national teams to train and compete in both sports simultaneously and prepare for back-to-back Olympics in an unheard of time frame.
Needless to say, I was not accepting options one or two. To be really honest, option three was the only one that I thought reflected who I am and who I want to be as a person. It gives me the opportunity to reach my goal being a two-sport Olympian, all while showcasing my strengths of being an athlete first.
“The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well.” – Olympic Creed
Now, I’m standing on my reputation as an athlete, making calculated decisions to give my everything to two national teams. I have the objective of being fair to them as the ones who support me, but also fair to my body, my mind, and myself as a person with dreams and goals.
As a person, all you can do is set goals for yourself. The world will find ways to throw hurdles on your path. It’s up to you to decide whether you turn around, take a detour, or plant your foot down and start jumping.
If you take anything from this, I hope it’s that there is no one right way to chase your dreams, because you’ll always face new challenges along the way. So, focus on doing it your way and making the best of what you have.
Vincent De Haître is a two-time Olympian in long track speed skating at Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018.