Ivanie Blondin emerged from the emotional devastation she felt four years ago to be a double Olympic medallist in Beijing.
Her speed and scrappiness propelled her to a silver medal Saturday in the combative women’s mass start four days after winning pursuit gold with teammates Isabelle Weidemann and Valerie Maltais.
“I’m on the podium and that was my goal,” Blondin said Saturday.
The tactical cat-and-mouse mass start made its Olympic debut in 2018.
Two-time world champion Blondin was a favourite in it as well as a contender in her other races in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
She crashed out of the mass start semifinal and missed a medal in her other distances.
“It was a big mental struggle for me after 2018,” Blondin said. “I went through depression and it was just hard.”
She sought medical and psychological help. Fostering humane society animals for adoption was also a balm for her mental health.
She’s always had an affinity for furry or feathered friends, including her African parrot Gizmo.
Blondin describes herself as fighter, yet admits she’s her own worst critic.
Unhappy with her 3,000 and 1,500 metres, the 31-year-old from Ottawa felt herself spiralling again in Beijing.
“I beat myself up,” Blondin said. “There was one point I was ready to go home because I was so hard on myself.
“I was not in a great place a week ago. To be able to come back and podium twice with the girls and myself individually today, I’m really proud of that.”
Sixteen women raced head-to-head for 16 laps in the mass start. Blondin was a stride ahead of Irene Schouten on the final turn.
The Dutch star caught the Canadian down the stretch to edge Blondin by a skate boot. Francesca Lollobrigida of Italy took bronze in the mad dash to the finish line.
“One and a half (laps) to go there was a lot of jostling for position,” Blondin said. “I actually got my hips grabbed and pulled back, but I fought for my position and stayed there. I don’t know if it took a little out of my legs.
“Schouten had an incredible race and an incredible last lap. I did think I had her for sure. When I passed her on the inside on the backstretch I was like, ‘This is game over. This is mine.’
“She brought it back and I think maybe I went a little bit too early.”
Schouten claimed her third gold medal in Beijing after victories in the 5,000 and 3,000 metres. Weidemann finished second to her in the 5k and took bronze in the 3k.
Body contact when the women bunched sent a few skaters flying into the protective padding Saturday, including defending champion Nana Takagi of Japan in the semifinal and reigning world champion Marijke Groenewoud of the Netherlands in the final.
Takagi also fell in women’s team pursuit when Japan raced Canada in the final.
Blondin held her ground when the elbows came up Saturday. She credits her years in short track before switching to long track in 2010 for her ability to race in a crowd and withstand the bumping of the mass start.
“I can draft very well and I’m very comfortable in a pack,” Blondin said.
“I’m kind of like a fighter in a way. When girls kind of grab me and push me, it just fires me up. I don’t shy away from these situations. I push back.
“My mindset going into a race is I want to fight my way through and I get excited about it.”
Points are scored via three intermediate sprints and order of finish, with the highest points awarded to who crosses the finish line in first, second and third.
Maltais of La Baie, Que., won two of the sprints, which helped her finish sixth.
Toronto’s Jordan Belchos was 13th and Antoine Gelinas-Beaulieu of Sherbrooke, Que., placed 15th in the men’s mass start.
Canada’s long-track speedskating team earned five medals in Beijing — a gold, three silver and one bronze.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2022.