CLANDEBOYE — The woman who might be the next big story in Canadian speedskating was relaxing at home Wednesday afternoon, fresh from winning an all-around bronze medal at last week's ISU World Junior Championships, when the discussion turned to career goals.
Alexa Scott, a self-described late-bloomer who is now a two-time national junior champion, didn't hold back.
"I want to try to be good in every distance possible," said the 18-year-old University of Manitoba student. "My goal is to be the best speedskater of all time and sit up there with Ireen Wust and Cindy Klassen."
Scott has moxie, that's for sure.
But maybe when you survive food poisoning three days before the world junior championships in Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Poland only to ascend to the medal podium before the week is done, aspiring to join the company of some of the sport's biggest legends doesn't seem like too much of a reach.
Coach Tyler Williamson-Derreaugh said Scott has a strong makeup.
"She survived it and had to deal with what was put in front of her and that was really hard," said Williamson-Derreaugh, a former national team skater who is now the provincial coach and technical director of the Manitoba Speed Skating Association.
"To go into a competition and one that you've been working towards for four of five years and to have something like that happen to you three days before the event would crush a lot of skaters. She had to push through this bug and she did. It's a character-builder and that's what you want for juniors."
On Friday, Scott posted a fifth-place finish in the 500 metres and placed eighth in the 1,500.
A day later, she collected a fourth in the 1,000 and a 10th in the gruelling 3,000. The cumulative result placed Scott third overall behind Dutch skaters Femke Kok and Robin Groot, who finished first and second, respectively.
Scott, who had placed fifth overall in 2019 and 18th overall in 2018, approached her final shot at world junior hardware with a top-three all-around finish in mind but was also aiming for podium finishes in her best events — the 1,000 and 1,500.
"I was feeling pretty awful," said Scott. "I had a real hard time eating. I survived every race day pretty much just on breakfast. The prep wasn't the best going into it and I was feeling pretty discouraged after the first day but I said, 'I have to skate.' The eighth in the 1,500 definitely discouraged me. I had been hoping to medal, it's one of my best distances but I was feeling really nauseous going to the (start) line."
All signs had been trending well in the month leading up to Poland.
Scott had skated to personal bests at the Four Continents Championship in Milwaukee, placing fourth in the 1,000 and 1,500 against senior opposition while also helping the Canadian team to a silver in the pursuit event.
A week later, she struck for silver medals in the 1,000 and 1,500 at a Junior World Cup event in Minsk, Belarus.
Scott, who was born in Virden and moved with parents Judy and Malcolm to Clandeboye in 2011, admitted Manitobans have a reputation for toughness in Canadian skating circles, some of it derived from training in frosty conditions.
"We had the outdoor oval (at Sargent Park) and there really wasn't a choice," she said. "Everyone who's done well in speedskating from Manitoba has perservered in the cold. Tyson Langelaar was a wonderful outdoor skater — he still is. Mike Ireland was a physical freak. Clara (Hughes), Cindy (Klassen), Brittany Schussler and Shannon Rempel were all super strong."
Malcolm Scott, who serves as president of the Manitoba Speed Skating Association, credits Williamson-Derraugh for charting Alexa's rise to international prominence after several years of middling results. In 2019, she dominated at the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta., winning three gold medals.
"He brought a whole new level of coaching," said Malcolm Scott. "She really trusted him with everything."
Scott put off a more permanent move to Calgary this season to continue training in Winnipeg but she has made monthly trips this winter to work with the national team.
"She was competitive at nationals when she was younger but she never won nationals or medaled too frequently," said Williamson-Derraugh. "But she was always very determined and wanted to be the best. That really motivated her in training and developed her work ethic, that will to succeed. Each year we were chipping up the rankings and slowly but surely, when she was 17 last year she won at the Canadian junior championships."
Scott has always worked with a personal trainer but now also sees a nutritionist and consults with prominent U of M sports psychologist Adrienne Leslie-Toogood.
"She's helped me really find who I want to be," said Scott.
This summer, with her junior eligibility gone, Scott will move to Calgary for school and year-round training with the national senior team. The competition gets tougher but her coach expects her to rise to the challenge of another level.
"For a lot of athletes it takes a few years. I have no doubt for her it won't take a few years," said Williamson-Derraugh. "She's going to transition pretty quickly."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.