Canada's Vincent De Haitre eyes ambitious Olympic goal: 2 Games, 2 sports, 180 days

Canada's Vincent De Haitre is about to embark on a unique journey. If all goes to plan, De Haitre will compete in track cycling starting Monday at the 2020 Tokyo Games, then in speed skating at the Beijing Winter Olympics early next year. That's two Olympic Games and two sports in a span of 180 days, but De Haitre remains undeterred.

"The goal is to prove that this is possible," De Haitre told ESPN.

In his quest to join an interesting slice of Canadian and Olympic history, De Haitre laid out a meticulous training and competition schedule. He measures his intake down to the precise grams of rice. However, he could not anticipate the onset of a worldwide pandemic that would shrink the gap between Summer and Winter Games from 18 months to five.

De Haitre's goal isn't without precedent. He is not the first to take this particular two-sport path, nor the first from Canada. In 1968, Bob Boucher competed as a speed skater at February's Winter Games in Grenoble, France, before doing the same as a cyclist in Mexico City for October's Summer Olympics. De Haitre would be the 13th Canadian to compete in both summer and winter Olympics and the fourth to do it within 12 months of each other.

"It was nice to know there's someone else who's done this," De Haitre said. "But he had 237 days [between Games]. Mine would be 180. So, you know, I'd win. That's if I make it."

De Haitre grew up in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. When he was about 10, his parents were determined to invest in the activities of De Haitre and his older brother, Rene.

"[They] weren't going to raise two guys that were just going to bum around," De Haitre said. "They said from the outset, that's just not acceptable."

Vincent started skating but briefly left it behind and took up alpine skiing. However, Rene's success drove him back to skating, and Vincent was determined to make a name for himself in the sport.

"I want to be good, and from there on out, I started doing stuff on my own at home, trying to improve," De Haitre said. "I watched videos of races, trying to find ways to be better, and from there on I got better and better. And I stayed true to what I said: I'm not here to just do this, I'm here to be good at it."

The obsession with improvement helped De Haitre qualify for the 2014 Sochi Olympics at 19 as the youngest member of the Canadian team. He would win silver at the 2017 World Championships in the 1,000 meters.

He set lofty goals for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics but injured his heel just before the Games when he landed awkwardly after a jump. He entered the Olympic Village on crutches, all the while keeping the injury from his parents.

The setback turned into a 19th-place finish in the 1,000 meters.

"After the race," De Haitre said, "I met them and said, 'Look mum, I'm really sorry I got hurt,' and I asked them, 'Are you still proud of me?'"

His parents -- his father a police force veteran, his mother in the private sector -- assured them that they were. "So for me, that was the most important thing, my parents making all the effort to get there, and to let them down would have hurt more than anything else," De Haitre said.

De Haitre's love for cycling intertwines with his love for skating. Growing up, he would thrash around on BMX bikes with Rene. This passion turned into his involvement in competitive track racing, and eventually a spot at the 2012 Junior World Championships.

But De Haitre broke his collarbone two weeks before the event. The thought of having to scramble all over to New Zealand with one functioning arm pulling his bike and gear was too much, so competing was out of the question.

He returned to skating, though cycling stayed in the back of his mind. On occasion, he would head to the track to compare his times. They proved good enough for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, where he competed as a sprinter.

Then it was back to skating to train for Pyeongchang. When that concluded, De Haitre made a decision: He would aim to compete in both the Tokyo and Beijing Games. He called Kris Westwood, Canada's high performance director for cycling with whom he had worked since 2011, and made a full commitment to the sport through Tokyo. Westwood was familiar with De Haitre's personality and drive, knowing this wasn't merely a gimmick. Still, coaches had to work out how they would fit De Haitre in. They settled on the team pursuit, with De Haitre's anaerobic strengths ideal for the role of lead cyclist.

De Haitre split his training schedule between the sports with one guideline in mind.

"When I'm with the cycling team, I am a cyclist," De Haitre said. "When I am with the skating team, I am a skater."

Training was on track to allow for De Haitre's peak cycling focus for the Tokyo Games to start in July 2020. But then a key part of the schedule -- the Games themselves -- shifted with their postponement to the following year because of COVID-19.

De Haitre was on his way to Victoria, British Colombia, on March 24 for a block of road training when he first heard. He reiterated his commitment to cycling to his coaches, having bypassed prize money competing at the highest levels of skating in order to train.

"I was committed, but then I started thinking about how this was going to affect my ability to compete in the Winter Olympics, as the time frame went from a year and a half to just 180 days," De Haitre said. "That's pretty significant."

His cycling and skating coaches came together, devising a plan targeting Tokyo's opening ceremonies scheduled for July 23.

Thoughts of quitting never entered De Haitre's mind. When the Canadian track cycling team was in the middle of an intensive spell, De Haitre joined them. When the speed skating team met, he was there.

"When I told them I could definitely do this, it was like calling a shot on the 8-ball in the corner pocket that I'd never made before," De Haitre said.

The sports De Haitre has chosen to compete in share positioning similarities, but he really felt the nuances. When skating, he would hurt his knee or hip. In cycling, it was his back. Cycling's movement, he said, was more up and down in a fixed position, whereas in skating it was side to side, weight bearing with less of the support than cycling, so there's more tension in the knees, ankles, hips and back.

It was a difficult juggling act for coaches and teammates, too.

"I think last year it was more of an issue just because he's sort of committing only half his time to the sport," said Jono Hailstone, De Haitre's track endurance coach for cycling. "But in general it's OK. It's pretty clear he's the best athlete for that specific position in the team, so it wasn't like he's going to be taking someone else's spot that's potentially going to be better than him. It hasn't been without it's friction and challenges."

The men's team pursuit is the first from Canada to qualify for the Olympics since 1976, but De Haitre has his own goals for Tokyo. He is reluctant to specify exactly how he sees it all pan out, saying only that in cycling, he wants to be there at the end of the race. His current role has him set the pace then drop out, with only three of the four cyclists needing to finish.

After Tokyo, De Haitre will take four days off before returning to skating. He will have just two chances to qualify for Beijing. "Five or six weeks after the end of Tokyo we have the World Cup trials," skating coach Bart Schouten said. "We have a pretty strong Canadian team, so in the 100 meters we have some good skaters that have really done well. So he'll need to be on point within five or six weeks after the Olympics. If he doesn't qualify for the World Cup in Beijing later this year, then he'll have another shot at the Olympic skate-off in January."

The Olympic fork in the road ahead for De Haitre is murky. But he appears calm through it all, preferring to keep things as simple as possible.

So why would he complicate things with his dual goal? His two coaches, both confident De Haitre will reach his goals, feel it's just in his nature.

"Vince is super ambitious, and he's quite ego-driven in terms of being able to say he's done something that no one else has ever done, but it's that ambition, drive and desire that's making this whole thing possible for him," Hailstone said.

Schouten points to De Haitre's determination and talent.

"He's very hard on himself mentally, but has that mental capability of focusing and being hard-headed in a positive way," Schouten said. "The second thing is that he's enormously talented, so he's a strong individual, with good movement, good at managing his body. I think there's also some motivation from not reaching his best at Pyeongchang, so I think he wants to prove to himself what he can really do.

"My gut is saying he'll do it. It's been a puzzle, but we've all been thinking about how to basically make the impossible happen."

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