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Vincent De Haitre's two-sport Olympic quest complicated by pandemic

Vincent De Haitre was already blazing down a road less travelled — chasing summer and winter Olympic dreams as both track cyclist and speed skater — when the COVID-19 pandemic stuck a fork in his map.

After careful consideration, the 25-year-old from Ottawa charted a hurried-up course of action, one that poet Robert Frost might have endorsed.

“I was on that path and then the world changed. And this path has only been walked by one other person.”

Bob Boucher competed for Canada in the 1968 Winter Olympics as a speed skater and the Summer Olympics as a track cyclist; and there were just 238 days between the closing ceremonies in Grenoble and opening ceremonies in Mexico City. De Haitre’s turnaround between Tokyo next summer and Beijing in February 2022 would be even quicker, 181 days.


In 1976, Canadian Sue Holloway became the first woman to compete in two Olympics in one year; as a cross-country skier in Innsbruck, and a sprint kayaker in Montreal.

“The only thing I can think of to tell him, as athletes especially in dual sports we tend to overdo it. You’re driven by training,” said Boucher, now 76 and living in Nelson, B.C. “I don’t know how many times I buried myself by doing too much. So just lighten up. Be easy on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. Stay in the technical mode.”

It’s wise counsel for De Haitre, who has lived for just over two months with his decision to continue down both Olympic paths despite the pandemic wrinkle. He was in Victoria in late March preparing for a cycling camp when the Canadian Olympic Committee pulled the plug on participation at Tokyo and two days later the International Olympic Committee postponed the Games to July and August 2021.


“I had to plan 18 months ahead, all while not knowing when I can walk into our training facilities again,” said De Haitre. “It was a very stressful time, getting everybody on board with both national teams. It was really me calling my shot, saying this is what I believe I can do and standing by that, not wavering, to really build confidence with both national federations that this is possible, I can do it, and I hope you believe in me.”

Since then, physical distancing dictated most of his training occur in his Calgary home, though he now rides and inline skates outdoors in a vacant research park. A typical six-day week will incorporate 20 hours of training. He still doesn’t know when he can get physio treatments for the back, ankle and knee pain that has been building, or when he can receive instruction in person from cycling coach Jono Hailstone and skating coaches Bart Schouten and Todd McClements.

“Essentially my life is kind of in their hands. Where I am and what I do is basically up to them now.”

It is early in the new process and nobody is quite sure how it’s going to work. Or if it will work. Though Schouten and McClements had yet to talk to Hailstone near the end of May, using De Haitre as intermediary they sketched out a two-sport training plan that would take their athlete through both Olympics. There will be more communication soon to confirm every detail, as alignment between Cycling Canada and Speed Skating Canada is crucial.

“That process definitely needs to happen and that’s going to be the critical piece as to whether this whole thing works or not,” Hailstone said. “It goes deeper than just coaches. It’s the gym, strength and conditioning, physical therapy.”


De Haitre needs to carve out a spot on the speed skating team for Beijing, and will have to qualify for those Games before he competes in Team Pursuit in Tokyo. Cycling Canada also wants him at four training camps before Tokyo.

“The main complicating factor is qualification,” said Hailstone. “For 2021, he’s fully committed to cycling and he’ll train full time (up to Tokyo). For the rest of this year we’re trying to juggle between the two sports and try to make sure everyone gets what they need.

“If you wanted this to work and had to choose a winter and summer sport, these are probably the two you would choose. They’re both obviously lower-body focused, so the actual physiology is pretty similar. The main difference is the technical aspect; in team pursuit it’s the bike-handling skills. You’re only a few centimetres away from the wheel in front of you. Make one mistake and it’s pretty costly.”

The technical fine points of speed skating are just as important, and De Haitre will have only six months after Tokyo to regain his touch through all those left hand turns if he is to compete in the 1,000 metres or the 1,500 metres in Beijing.

“The main challenge is that he get stronger again in the position and can hold his speed,” said Schouten. “There are a lot of G forces nowadays because the speed is increasing. To be technically so proficient that he can handle those forces on his legs in the turn, going 60 or 61 kph and doing that 180-degree turn, will be his biggest challenge.”

There are doubts, not about De Haitre’s commitment, but his ability to train appropriately for both sports and elicit peak performance in two Olympics just six months apart.


“If you didn’t have any doubts or questions, you wouldn’t be dealing with reality,” said Hailstone. “The commitment is not an issue. He’s committed and he’ll do the training he needs to do for both sports. But the third piece is just managing fatigue. If he’s got this much time allocated to skating and this much time allocated to cycling, where does the rest come in and which program does it get taken out of?”

In concert with coaches in both programs, De Haitre has to strike the balance to ensure against groin, back and joint injuries related to training load. Schouten said Speed Skating Canada employs world-leading athlete monitoring software that will streamline the process on their end.

“The biggest trap is not giving him enough rest when he’s switching modalities. It’s really important he understands that. We’ll be on top of that so we don’t over-train or under-rest Vince.”


The rest will be up to De Haitre.

“His willpower and dedication to what he wants to achieve are his biggest assets,” said Schouten. “From there, everything will come together. If the will is there and the dedication is there, he’ll make the right decisions all the time to be the best athlete he can be.”

There are surely medals up for grabs on the oval. De Haitre is the Canadian record-holder in the 1,000-metres and if healthy and properly trained, would be a threat at that distance and the 1,500-metres. He’s also a good bet for the team pursuit squad.

He began skating at age seven or eight, gave it up for a year, but missed it too much. That season away cost him race shape and he was routinely humbled on the track, so he re-committed himself. At age 19, he surprised most observers by qualifying for Sochi 2014. Four years later, with confidence and pedigree aplenty, he qualified for PyeongChang.

It was a major disappointment, as a bruised heel suffered in dryland training just four days before his first event put the kibosh on medal hopes. He was on crutches when not in skates, but gutted his way to the start line and finished 19th in the 1,000-metres and 21st in the 1,500.

PyeongChang is unfinished business driving him forward to Beijing. But he’s just as interested in cycling and holds the 1,000-metres national record in that sport as well. It’s not an Olympic distance so he’ll be competing in Team Pursuit.

“I know deep down that I’m a good cyclist. It’s just a matter of finding an event that lets me showcase that.”

He plans to skate through the 2026 Olympics and if he successfully navigates both roads, he could see himself cycling into 2024.


“If I inspire someone to do more than just one sport or even just one thing in life outside of sport — finding something they like and also realizing they don’t have to give up everything to chase it — I feel that would be amazing.”


It still happens to Bob Boucher, more than 50 years after he made history.

He’ll be riding his bike in and around Nelson, B.C., as he does four or five times a week at age 76, and somebody in the group will steer the conversation to athletes who have competed in both Summer and Winter Olympics.

“They’ll say Pierre Harvey was the first Canadian to do it,” said Boucher. “I have to say ‘no, geez, I did that.’ I’ve had that discussion on the bike with guys. I don’t think there was a hell of a lot of fuss made when I did it. And so many articles had been written, saying it was Pierre Harvey. So it’s not as recognized as maybe you might think it is.”


Boucher competed at the 1968 Grenoble Olympics as a speed skater, finishing a disappointing 25th in the 500-metres after a slip. Eight months later he was in Mexico City as a track cyclist, losing both sprint races to athletes from Great Britain.

Harvey competed in track cycling at the 1976 Games in Montreal, and cross-country skiing in 1984 in Sarajevo. Canadian Sue Holloway became the first woman to compete in Summer and Winter Games in 1976; as a cross-country skier in Innsbruck, then as a sprint kayaker in Montreal.

For Boucher, it was both a physical and mental struggle to do both Games.

“When I came back (from Grenoble) I was totally fried, financially and time-wise. I was training for the summer and I know retrospectively my head wasn’t in it. I had no energy. And then I had a crash at the velodrome (in Winnipeg) and broke my collar bone. Then for sure it looked like the dream was over.”

That was far from the case.

“I had a brace, my arm was tied up, and my wife turned my handlebars so they were reversed. There was a junior team training to go to a race in the east, so because I wasn’t at work, I went riding with them every day. They were doing maybe 50 miles a day. At the end of six weeks I had my energy back, I had my mental attitude back and made the (Olympic) team.”

Boucher said while he still loves to ride, he had to give up skating last winter after an issue with balance led to “a bit of ice diving.”

He was advised that a series of crashes and concussions suffered over his cycling career may be the root cause.


Bob Boucher – speed skating at Grenoble 1968, track cycling at Mexico City 1968


Sue Holloway – cross-country skiing at Innsbruck 1976, sprint kayak at Montreal 1976

Pierre Harvey – Road cycling at Montreal 1976, cross-country skiing at Sarajevo 1984

Lloyd Guss – Athletics at Los Angeles 1984, bobsleigh at Calgary 1988

Alain Masson – Road cycling at Los Angeles 1984, cross-country skiing at Calgary 1988

Glenroy Gilbert – Athletics at Seoul 1988, bobsleigh at Lillehammer 1994

Clara Hughes – Road cycling at Atlanta 1996, speed skating at Salt Lake City 2002

Hayley Wickenheiser – Hockey at Nagano 1998, softball at Sydney 2000

Bryan Barnett – Athletics at Beijing 2008, bobsleigh at Sochi 2014

Georgia Simmerling – Alpine skiing at Vancouver 2010, track cycling at Rio 2016

Phylicia George – Athletics at London 2012, bobsleigh at PyeongChang 2018

Seyi Smith – Athletics at London 2012, bobsleigh at PyeongChang 2018

Source – Canadian Olympic Committee

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