Laurent Dubreuil | Children first

Two months after his Olympic triumph, speed skater Laurent Dubreuil stopped at The Press for a look back at a stunning moment.

Posted yesterday at 6:59 p.m.

Simon Drouin

Simon Drouin
The Press

Two Olympic champions warned Laurent Dubreuil after his silver medal at the Beijing Games: nothing will ever seem so important to him.

Two months later, the speed skater wonders if this statement really applies to him.

“It’s treacherous because you attach so much importance to this medal, he noted Tuesday morning. When you don’t have one, you say to yourself: hey, this is really going to change my life! Then there, you win one and you realize that you have the same breakfast in the morning, you drink water, you sometimes have a headache, you have bad days and you are stuck in traffic. It doesn’t change your life. »

Question of perspective, probably. Already the father of a two-and-a-half-year-old girl, the 29-year-old athlete learned at the start of the Olympics that a second child was on the way.

His wife Andréanne feared ruining her preparation, but she felt nauseous and refused to take a pregnancy test for fear of further disappointment. Do it, he told her, it’s no use waiting two weeks. She called him back crying.

Without it being very concrete yet – the baby is expected in October – it is therefore with this happy news in mind that Dubreuil came to the starting line of the 500m in Beijing. The world champion was awarded a false start before finishing fourth by a few hundredths.

To this day, Dubreuil cannot explain why he was penalized in this way. People invoked a plot to win the Chinese Gao Tingyu, the other big favorite. “I don’t think it was a conspiracy, but if it wasn’t, it was human error. »

Dutch commentators, after analyzing the sequence “like Alain Côté’s goal”, told him that they did not understand more.

At least Dubreuil held his fate in his hands and was able to skate, which was not the case two weeks later in a completely different context.

In front of reporters, he said the right things and swallowed his disappointment. “I think I was trying to convince myself, but it was hard. »

A call to his parents, who were following the family race in Saint-Étienne-de-Lauzon, allowed him to put everything into perspective. His daughter Rose was circling in the living room and “didn’t care” that her dad finished fourth.


Laurent Dubreuil with his daughter Rose at the Quebec airport

Has the prospect of welcoming a new child later in the year helped ease her grief?

” Yes and no. Let’s say that if my family had stopped at one child, I would have been happy, that’s for sure. But if you had given me the choice between winning an Olympic medal and your family stopping at one child or not winning any and having three children, I would have taken the children. It’s more important to me. »

After this hard blow, Dubreuil had six days to get back on his feet and try his luck in the 1000m. He had not been on the podium once for the season at this event. On the ice, the training sessions weren’t great. Nothing to do with the 500 m, where he was flying on the ring.

And four days before the race, he injured his back in the weight room: “I didn’t talk about it, because I wanted to stay positive, but it was still quite intense. I was lucky because it was an extension injury. In skating position, so folded, I felt pretty good. My back was maybe 95%. I said to myself: no need to be perfect, as long as I’m good on race day, it’s going to be okay. »

Almost against all odds, he won silver at his shortest distance. “It’s clear that I wanted to win medals this year. You don’t want to leave the Olympics without winning. That said, I didn’t have any until then and I was perfectly happy. »

I don’t think I’m happier today. In fact, I’m sure of it.

Laurent Dubreuil

A few days later, Dubreuil already had his eyes on the World Sprint Championships in Norway. Halfway through the competition, he was dominating the standings, confident of being crowned the following day. That was before a positive COVID-19 test locked him in his hotel room.

That pill was even harder to swallow than finishing fourth at the Games. “I was taken away from my chance. Even if the event was smaller, it was harder to accept. »

There remained the final World Cup in the Netherlands, played a week later. Confined to his room for four days in Norway, he slept, played video games and ate chocolate, much to the surprise of Dutch journalists. He did not train for the next four days when he was released. Rightly or wrongly, he wanted to give his body as much chance as possible to get rid of a virus that didn’t really affect him.

Dubreuil only received the green light the day before his race in Heerenveen. Arrived by plane the same day, he disembarked at Thialf an hour and a half before his start in the 500m. He finished second, his ninth podium in nine starts. His family had come to join him and he was able to take a lap of honor with Rose in his arms, the best memory of his career.

For an athlete whose principle is not to get carried away when things are going well and not to collapse when things are going badly, the last two months have been quite a challenge.

It was like impossible to avoid the ups and downs. Mentally, it was hard. I think I need a longer break than usual.

Laurent Dubreuil

The Dutchman Michel Mulder and the Norwegian Havard Holmefjord Lorentzen, the two champions who warned Dubreuil, experienced dramatic drops in speed in the years following the conquest of their Olympic title in the 500m.

Dubreuil is not afraid of suffering such a decline. “I would be really surprised if this medal harms the rest of my career. I just think it will free me up a bit. I’m just looking forward to racing next season. »

A lot of

A dream life

Laurent Dubreuil thinks more about his next personal best in rear squat – he has already lifted a load of 410 lbs three times – than about his next big goals in speed skating. For the past few years, daily improvement has been his mantra. “I really enjoy what I do and I don’t see it as hard work or anything. There are workouts that I like less and I have to challenge myself a little more. But in the end, I live a dream life. It’s not hard to do what I do. It is in my cords and my interests. I’m just lucky to be able to do that. »

Until 2030?

Barring the unexpected, Dubreuil will make it to the 2026 Olympics in Milan and Cortina. He does not close the door to 2030. He would then be 37 years old, the age of Charles Hamelin, who retired in full glory on Sunday. That said, rare are the sprinters who have been able to win past the age of 34. The athlete from Lévis sets three conditions for the pursuit of his career: the love of his sport (“the most important”), the ability to perform well, and therefore to be able to make a living from it, and the reconciliation of sport and family. “If we have three children, it’s too much for Andréanne and I’m no longer able to manage it well, it might be time to retire. »

The most beautiful skater of the Canadiens?

A great sports fan, Dubreuil has been treated to a small trilogy in recent days. Invited by the Toronto Blue Jays for the opener last weekend, he was introduced to the crowd on the field along with a dozen Olympic and Paralympic medalists from Beijing. The day before, he had attended a Raptors game with a friend. Monday evening, his agent invited him to watch the Canadian-Jets game in a box at the Bell Centre. Which skater impressed him the most? Cole Caufield. “You feel the explosiveness, the acceleration. It is light and accelerates really well. It’s all about his speed, and defensemen look stressed as soon as he picks up the puck. »

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