There are no prizes for youth at the Winter Olympics but at just 20, Clandeboye’s Alexa Scott will be among the youngest.
Some day, she might also be among the fastest.
Determined not to waste a minute of the formative stages of her long-track speedskating career, Scott is treating the trip to Beijing next month as another logical step in her development.
Her mission is deliberate.
Two years ago, she overcame severe symptoms of food poisoning to claim the overall bronze medal at the world junior championships in Poland.
Last October, after missing what should have been her debut season (2020-21) on the World Cup circuit owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott generated another milestone moment.
"At World Cup trials, I definitely had kind of a breakout race," Scott, who moved to Calgary in the summer of 2020 to train full time with the national team, recently told the Free Press. "I got a huge 1,500-metre personal best that put me on the World Cup team and that was when I first starting thinking, ‘Hmm, maybe I could go (to the Olympics) this year.’"
Scott’s 1:56.5 clocking was a two-second improvement.
"I had hoped that I could possibly make a stand at the trials and see if I could possibly skate for the (Olympic) team," said Scott. "I was more concerned about making the World Cup circuit so I could be in that top group of skaters. I wasn’t thinking that I would make the Olympic Games this year. I was thinking 2026."
Others had watched her training and knew better.
"She was so surprised and I knew she was capable of doing it," noted national team assistant-coach Shannon Rempel. "We all knew she was capable of doing it, but it’s different when you go and actually prove it to yourself.
"So she did and that confidence allowed her to build, and then she went to her first World Cups and you know, that’s a learning curve, too."
This is not to say Scott is a medal threat in Beijing, because she’s not. She’s been skating in B Division finals on the World Cup circuit but the trajectory of her career and the forecasts of experts suggest she’s in the early stages of building something special.
Manitoba has produced some of the sport’s biggest female stars, such as Cindy Klassen, Clara Hughes and Susan Auch. Could Scott be next?
"There’s no doubt there’s certain qualities that superstar athletes and skaters possess," said her former provincial coach, Tyler Williamson Derraugh. "You can’t train that into people. It’s that ability to rise to a challenge and rise to a big moment. Time and time again, Alexa always manages to do it."
Rempel, who qualified for the national team after winning a world junior title as an 18-year-old back in 2003, said she sees evidence of it on the track every day.
"I think she can be one of the best in the world, for sure," said Rempel. "She’s one of the most dedicated athletes. She’s motivated. She trains hard. She also loves racing and she’s a fighter."
In addition to competing in the 1,000m at the Olympics, Scott could gain late entry from the International Skating Union in the 1,500m event. She is also an alternate on the medal-contending Canadian women’s pursuit team that also includes Ivanie Blondin, Valerie Maltais and Isabelle Wiedemann.
Scott said training with the veteran threesome is the thrill of a lifetime.
"I’m very fortunate to get to skate with them every day," she said. "They push me every single day because they’re just so strong, and I want to be able to keep up with them."
Scott seems to have found a niche skating in the 1,000m while also establishing a personal best in the 1,500m this season. But she takes every opportunity to skate 500m and 3,000m races when she can.
"She’s a very mature skater," said Rempel. "She’s soaking everything in right now and for sure it’s overwhelming for all the athletes with COVID and this experience just being entirely new. We talk a lot about how to stay focused on her progress and her goals and she’s doing extremely well with it."
Scott plans to go step by step. Her first Olympics will not be her last.
"I’m going to take this as a way to build experience," she said. "I think being on the pursuit team is super beneficial to me because I get to skate directly with those older, more experienced girls and I get to learn from them.
"I’m expecting to perform at my top level — if I go out on the ice I put it all down the way I know I can. Our coaches here, they’re really great with managing expectations."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.