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Canmore speed skater Connor Howe on Olympics debut, fulfilling dream

“It hit me about how special it is."

CANMORE – Walking out with Canadian athletes at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, it suddenly struck Canmore’s Connor Howe that a lifelong dream had come true.

At his debut Winter Games, the 21-year-old speed skater had made it to the big show and was about to compete against the world’s best in three long track events.

“It hit me about how special it is,” Howe said, reminiscing about walking around the Beijing National Stadium on Feb. 4. “It really got the excitement up walking out there.”

A few kilometres away is the Ice Ribbon, the 12,000-seat Crown Jewel of Beijing’s Olympic venues and where the speed skating races took place.

The former Banff Canmore Skating Club member finished fifth in the men’s 1,500m, and 12th in the 1,000m races, and fifth in Team Pursuit with Canadian teammates Jordan Belchos, Ted-Jan Bloemen and Tyson Langelaar.

In the 1,500m, Howe’s specialty event and debut race at the Games, is a moment he’ll never forget.

“Stepping out on race day and doing a good one,” he said. “The atmosphere on the team was pretty supportive amongst the skaters.”

Canada won five medals (gold, three silver, bronze) in long and short track in Beijing.

And as one of the strongest 1,500m skaters in the world, eyes were firmly on the young Canuck potentially medalling.

Prior to the 1,500m, a two-decade old Olympic record stood tall and was held by Derek Parra of the United States, but the longstanding bar was broken twice in a matter of minutes at the Ice Ribbon.

First, Dutchman Thomas Krol’s 1:43:55 beat Parra’s record of 1:43.95 – won at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. But the newly minted record didn’t take 20 years to beat because immediately following Krol’s feat, countryman Kjeld Nuis bested it by 0.34 seconds at a time of 1:43.21.

Nuis now holds the 1,500m’s Olympic record and world record at a time of 1:40.17.

For Howe, he was paired in the 1,500m’s final race against Norway's Allan Dahl Johansson. Howe said viewing the Olympics record being snapped beforehand was a bit stressful, but focused on his race.

“I figured if they can skate a fast time then I can also go,” said Howe. “I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to win the gold, but that third and fourth place was within reach, so I kind of had to shoot for that in the back of my mind.”

Howe aggressively punched the pace for the first 700m, knowing the speed would carry him the remaining length.

Howe easily took the head-to-head pairing at a time of 1:44.86 – 0.62 seconds off a podium.

“My pair, it worked out so that he was in the backstretch ahead of me, so I could kind of get into his draft for 100 metres and you get a little bit of a slingshot with that,” said Howe. “My last lap was pretty strong. I was able to finish, I think, stronger than I have been like the last year or two, so that was good.”

Team Pursuit was the next race for Howe. Coming into the Olympics, Canada ranked third in the world and hopes were high that a podium was well in reach.

However, in the quarterfinals of a competitive field, Canada was stunned and finished fifth. Only the top four countries advanced for a chance at a podium.

“We knew we were in the mix for being top four, but yeah, we were doing our strategy with Ted [leading] the whole thing – that’s what the Americans and Norwegians were doing and Russians started doing pretty successfully,” said Howe. “We worked on that, but we weren’t as good as they were, so it was a bit disappointing.”

Canada placed fifth overall. Howe was substituted out of the final pairing against South Korea in favour of Langelaar. It was a strategic move to give the 21-year-old some extra rest for the upcoming 1,000m.

Coming into his final race, Howe hoped for a top 10. But in a sport where results are settled by mere milliseconds, Howe’s time of 1:08.97 was 0.17 seconds out of the top 10 and 0.49 seconds away from bronze.

In the closing ceremony, the 21-year-old said it was an emotional ending, but he's encouraged and motivated by the results.

“I’ll take it one year at a time, but I think it would be cool to come back in four years and try to build on it and maybe be on the podium would be pretty cool,” said Howe. “I was thinking over the good memories and stuff that were made. I will remember that, for sure.”

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

An award-winning reporter, Jordan Small has covered sports, the arts, and news in the Bow Valley since 2014. Originally from Barrie, Ont., Jordan has lived in Alberta since 2013.
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