THE NETHERLANDS – Local speed skating star Connor Howe is a virtual lock to represent the Great White North at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
After showing unquestionable talent and speed at the ISU world championships last weekend, the 20-year-old long track specialist is rapidly approaching his biggest dreams for the biggest stage.
“I think it helped motivate me for next year,” said Howe, a Canmore-native. “I kind of want to do top 10s [at the Olympics], I think that’s within reach in the 1,000 metre and 1,500, and team Canada should be good to hit the podium in the pursuit if we do well.”
Looking sharp in the warm-up to Beijing, Howe was a legitimate threat to the big dogs last weekend, flying to sixth in the 1,500 metre at a time of 1:45.862; 10th in the 1,000m; and winning silver in team pursuit.
The world championships capped off a four-week stint in the Netherlands, where Howe won his first world cup and world championship medals.
“In the first world cup, I found it pretty cool getting on the podium because it came as such a surprise,” said Howe, a former pupil of Banff/Canmore Speed Skating. “That made us know we could do well the rest of the time.”
Before arriving in the Netherlands, Howe admitted his expectations were low when matching up against international powerhouses.
Due to COVID-19, the Canadians had limited training at ovals and skating facilities before heading to Europe in late-January.
Over the two world cup weekends, Howe was still finding his legs and finished 15th (1,500m) and 17th (1,000m) in the opening weekend. The following weekend, he showed improvement with a seventh (1,500m) and 11th (1,000m).
“When we got there, we weren’t really in top form, I’d say, and then over the four weeks from World Cup 1 to the single distance, I think we kind of figured it out,” said Howe.
Despite getting their legs under them, the Canadian men clicked in team pursuit, wining silver and bronze medals.
The Canadians were constantly nipping at the heels of the dominant Dutch and other top skate nations, leading to the world championships showdown where the Canuck team was only .28 seconds from standing on the highest podium step.
The flying Dutchmen have had the distinction of being the undisputed kings of team pursuit since it debuted in 2005, winning gold every year except for one. But Canada has made itself known as viable threat to that crown.
Howe, Jordan Belchos and Ted-Jan Bloemen think their three-man team has a great shot at medalling in Beijing.
“Depending on the day, I think we could be right in there with the Netherlands team,” said Howe.
"It’s looking very promising going into the Olympic season where we’ll be able to prepare much better in relation to our opponents,” added Bloemen in a press release.
As the Canadians look like a medal contender in team pursuit, Howe's individual effort also caught attention and headlines.
During Sunday’s (Feb. 14) 1,500m, the sixth-place Howe stepped up as a threat to the world’s best long track racers, finishing only 0.36 off the podium.
With a lot growth in the sport still expected for the young speed skater, Howe is gearing up to wear the Maple Leaf for years to come.
But first things first, Beijing is on the horizon.
“If we can get a full year of training then I will be in better skating form, at least, and then I can also get stronger in these next couple years,” he said.