January 17, 2018

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Skater packs explosive talent

'Peg's McLean could bust out at Olympics

Winnipeg speedskater Heather McLean was officially chosem to represent Canada at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang on Wednesday.</p>

Winnipeg speedskater Heather McLean was officially chosem to represent Canada at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang on Wednesday.

It was a moment Heather McLean had prepared a lifetime for.

On Wednesday, the 25-year-old speedskater from Winnipeg was officially named to represent Canada at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. McLean, who grew up in Westwood, happily recalled how she debuted on the speedskating oval as a two-year-old, all the while trying to keep up with her older brothers, Matt and Cam.

In 2018, during her fifth season as a member of the national long-track team specializing in the women’s 500- and 1,000-metre events, she is a seasoned veteran on the international circuit although the World Cup season hasn’t been an unqualified success. McLean hasn’t reached the podium in 2017-18 but aims to get there.

What about an Olympic medal?

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It was a moment Heather McLean had prepared a lifetime for.

On Wednesday, the 25-year-old speedskater from Winnipeg was officially named to represent Canada at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. McLean, who grew up in Westwood, happily recalled how she debuted on the speedskating oval as a two-year-old, all the while trying to keep up with her older brothers, Matt and Cam.

In 2018, during her fifth season as a member of the national long-track team specializing in the women’s 500- and 1,000-metre events, she is a seasoned veteran on the international circuit although the World Cup season hasn’t been an unqualified success. McLean hasn’t reached the podium in 2017-18 but aims to get there.

What about an Olympic medal?

"I’m feeling pretty confident," said McLean via telephone from Canadian team headquarters in Calgary. "With the races I was having, I don’t think I deserved to be on the podium this fall. I wasn’t executing my race plan. I couldn’t put a proper race together, so that’s what I’ve been working on through (Olympic) trials and continue on for the next couple of weeks. My execution for the 1,000 at trials was actually a little bit better, so as long as I can put a proper race together I think I can be competitive."

McLean qualified first in the 1,000 metres at the recent Canadian trials and second, behind teammate Marsha Hudey in the 500, her favourite discipline.

Four years ago, she was well back at the trials with an eighth-place finish in the 500 prior to the Sochi Games.

Since then, her approach to the sport has changed, coinciding three years ago with the arrival of national team sprint coach Kevin Crockett. Crockett’s training methods are slightly unorthodox; he expects female skaters on his team to train with their male counterparts.

"I think it’s kind of a tough situation because the men we’re training with, they’re not just regular skaters," said McLean. "They’re the best in the world. We’re skating literally behind the fastest guys in the world, trying to keep up with them. So it’s made us really strong and it’s made us really fast but at the same time, it’s pretty nerve-racking. It puts a lot of pressure on us because he wants us to keep up with them and we know that’s what we’ve gotta do to be good."

The changes triggered some of the best results of her career. McLean made three podium finishes on the World Cup circuit in 2015-16.

"I’ve had a lot of success coaching women based off demanding they keep up to the men, no matter what," said Crockett.

"It’s a tough transition for them but as they adapt, I find that their results improve on a very steep curve."

Crockett gave an example of McLean’s training prowess.

"Let’s say my top guys are going out to skate a one-lap effort at absolutely top speed," said Crockett. "And I’m talking about very elite men. Heather can keep up and there’s maybe one or two girls in the world that can do the same. Marsha Hudey has been consistently beating Heather this year but Marsha can’t keep up to those guys. Heather can.

"It’s not showing up in racing but when it does, I think the world is going to be shocked (when) she fufills her potential."

McLean has been so far discouraged in her attempts to translate those sensational workout efforts into outstanding race performances. She believes she will some day unlock the secret to an extra gear.

"It’s a pretty big compliment — the only problem is I’m able to keep up to the guys in training but I haven’t figured out how to do that on my own in a race yet," said McLean. "So, it can be pretty frustrating. What I’m doing keeping up with the guys is really good but when you don’t have that carrot in front of you to chase, it’s a little bit harder for me to get going."

Perhaps McLean is due for a breakout performance in South Korea. The national team soon will be heading to Inzell, Germany, the site of a pre-Olympic staging session where the Canadians will make final preparations for Pyeongchang.

McLean is set to race in the Olympic 1,000-metre event on Feb. 14; the 500 metres goes four days later. Her parents, John and Linda McLean, and boyfriend Dan Carruthers will be cheering her on from the stands.

"Is there work to be done? I guess you could say more on a technical level, cleaning up the technique a little bit," said Crockett, a bronze medallist for Canada at the 1998 Nagano Games. "It’s really about sharpening up right now and as far as her ability, she’s come really close to her personal bests.

"Her past 1,000 at the Olympic trials, she was close to her personal best, so for her, she’s pretty close to top form. And her PB in the 500 is 37.29 and she’s done a 37.39 this year, so she hasn’t taken a big leap this year but she’s made that leap and she’s maintaining it."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @sawa14

Read more by Mike Sawatzky .

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