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Vincent De Haître: "The hardest thing I've ever done is getting back to speed skating after three years of cycling"

After breaking the Canadian track cycling men's team pursuit record at Tokyo 2020, Vincent De Haître will attempt what for many would seem impossible - qualifying in speed skating for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Olympics.com spoke to the multi-sport maestro about his past accomplishments and constant drive to improve.

Two weeks.

That's how long Canada's Vincent De Haître had to rest between flying home from his record-breaking track cycling exertions at Tokyo 2020, in 2021, and beginning training for an assault on Beijing 2022 as a speed skater.

It is by no means a long time to recover, after a herculean effort at the summer Olympics saw Canada's men's team pursuit side - led from the front by De Haître - come home fifth, the first time in decades they had achieved that placing.

But for De Haître, who always has one eye on the future, there was no time to waste in his pursuit of a historic summer/winter Olympic double – the Winter Games would begin in less than six months time.

Sure, there have been other athletes who have competed in both versions of the Games. There have even been athletes, in bygone times when both seasonal editions took place in the same 365-day period, who have competed in two Olympics in the same calendar year.

However, not since 1992 - when Barcelona and Albertville hosted the Winter and Summer Olympics in the same year - has there been so little time between the Games. And never has there been such interrupted and disrupted Olympiads as the ones faced by competitors prior to the Games in Tokyo and Beijing.

Chasing the implausible

On paper, it might seem an impossible dream for De Haître to adapt to a completely different sport – re-wiring the muscle memory borne out of three years of sustained cycling training in the build-up to Tokyo 2020 and re-focusing a mind that was for so long fixated on one goal - all with just 180 days between the Games.

But De Haître is cut from a different cloth, always moving forward to the next challenge with barely a moment to revel in the last.

"I saw one of my coaches do an interview and he said, 'Oh yeah, he (De Haître) is very ego driven'," explained the 27-year-old in an exclusive interview with Olympics.com.

"And at first I thought, 'Oh, that's kind of mean'. But essentially he was saying that I'm driven by things to be able to say I accomplished them. Problem solving the challenges is where I find a lot of my motivation."

One destination with many roads leading to it

If you're going to achieve what for many athletes would seem downright impossible, you can't leave things to chance.

However, for an athlete like De Haître, that was never likely to happen.

Project managing a dream like this takes thorough planning. It relies on an uncanny ability to define scenarios from the perfect to the imperfect: Plan A, Plan B, Plan C - and every sporting miracle and nightmare in-between.

In De Haître's case, the ideal scenario sees him on the plane to Beijing after qualifying at the Canadian trials that take place in mid-October in Calgary. But with so little time to prepare - and under strict doctor's orders to not resume full intensity training due to the likelihood of injury - De Haître is under no illusions that this will be his path to the Games.

"I hope I can get back to doing a race the normal way by the time the Olympic trials come in two weeks," explained the Ottawa native, who represented Canada in speed skating at both the Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

"Worst case scenario is that it doesn't go too well and then there's another round to the Olympic trials in December and essentially it doubles my amount of time (in trying to qualify)."

"In a perfect world I would hope to be on the World Cup team – so qualify somewhere in the top four or five in Canada for these Olympic trials – (and then) go to the World Cup in Poland, Norway, Calgary and Salt Lake City.

"And then from there, if I could be in the top three in the trials and then also stay in the top five or top eight [in the World Cup], whatever qualifies me for the Games, that would be pretty ideal.

"Obviously there is a possibility that I don't qualify for the Games at all. That's just a reality..."

It's at this point in the conversation that De Haître reveals the scenarios that lead to the fulfillment of his ultimate dreams. Not the fanciful type of dreams, but those that are calculated on history, statistics and self-knowledge.

"Ultimately, if I can qualify for the Olympics, I know how strong Canada is as a nation, and based on our nation's results, I can quite confidently say that if a Canadian athlete qualifies to go to the Olympics, they're qualifying in a group of people that are capable of top 10 and top five finishes at the Olympics. Potential medals."

The hardest thing to do

Back when De Haître was young, he was asked by someone who saw him riding a bike whether he would like to cycle one day at the Olympics. His answer back then was revealing: "I'm just here for the fun. I'm actually a speed skater."

It turns out that he did dream of being a cyclist, it's just that in Canada, a country where winter sports are so ingrained in the fibres of the culture, the path to being a successful speed skater was more clearly defined.

"I've always loved riding my bike," he said. "It's just that I haven't seen the same trajectory. If I'm in speed skating, I've been in it for so long that I know what each step brings to the next one, because I know how the national team functions. But because I'm so in and out of cycling, I don't have such a clear picture.

"I feel more at home in speed skating, but that doesn't mean I feel any less passionate about cycling."

In typical forward-thinking fashion, when faced with a choice between the national team endurance and speed cycling programmes, De Haître plumped for endurance, because "if I want to come back to skating, I'm going to struggle more if I come back from the sprint side'".

However, more recently De Haître has had to re-evaluate the benefits one sport brings to the other because, while the training plans may lead to similar gains, there's just no papering over the physical effort it takes to switch sports in such a short time frame and still perform at the highest level.

As De Haître himself admitted: "If I was to pick the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my career it would be getting back to speed skating after three-and-a-half years of cycling."

Looking back but always moving forward

In many ways, De Haître's quest to reach Beijing 2022 is like reaching into the unknown. But for someone whose past accomplishments only serve to drive him forward, you wouldn't bet against his wildest dreams manifesting themselves in a Winter Olympic reality.

"I don't think it's impossible for anyone else to try and do it," he explained. "But because I don't really have a foundation or base of knowledge of who did this and how they did it, for me it's just impressive.

"I impress myself every time I go out and do something, but at the same time I want to be better. I'm very critical, but at the same time I'll be like 'yeah, that was very good.'

"I'll also be like, 'that was very good... do it better."

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© 2021, Vincent De Haître. Canadian Olympic Dualsport Athlete. Created by: Chabo Communications & Design

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