CALGARY â€” Heather McLean’s coach demanded more from her after a disappointing result on Saturday.
She delivered with personal bests in the 500- and 1,000-metre events at the world sprint speedskating championships at the Olympic Oval on Sunday.
McLean finished seventh overall after placing fourth in the 500 in 37.29 seconds, 0.49 off leader Nao Kodaira of Japan, and ninth in the 1,000 in one minute 14.36 seconds, 2.08 seconds behind first-place American Heather Bergsma.
“I’m really impressed,” said Kevin Crockett, one of Canada’s team coaches. “Coming off â€¦ I wouldn’t say horrible, but an average day, I wanted to see what she was made of. It was a big victory in that sense. She showed she’s tough. There’s a lot of pressure here â€” big crowd, Mom and Dad in the stands. She showed up and it was a big breakthrough. A great day.
“To be honest, I don’t think she was doing it for the crowd or doing it for Canada per se, I think it was, ‘I want to beat the girls I’m supposed to beat.’ And that happened. She just rocketed up the rankings and that was awesome to see.”
The Winnipeg native, who placed eighth in Saturday’s 500 and 18th in the 1,000, didn’t downplay Crockett’s influence on her turnaround.
“The biggest thing was, my coach is really hard on me,” said McLean, 24. “But I realize that that just means he believes in me. If he believes in me, I should believe in myself and be a bit more confident. That was the difference-maker, knowing that I can skate faster than I did (Saturday) and I think I showed that.”
Kodaira captured the women’s title, edging out Bergsma and Jorien Ter Mors of the Netherlands.
On the men’s side, the Netherlands nailed down the top two spots â€” Kai Verbij and Ronald Mulder â€” while third went to Norway’s Havard Holmefjord Lorentze.
Laurent Dubreuil, of Levis, Que., who registered two personal bests on Saturday, placed seventh after an eighth-place finish (34.50) in the 500.
Vincent De Haitre, of Cumberland, Ont., who shattered the Canadian record in the 1,000 metres on the opening day, finished 12th overall. He placed second in the men’s 1,000 in 1:07.23 but 20th in the 500.
Weekend expectations had been high for McLean after placing fifth at the world single-distance championships earlier this month in South Korea.
She was a bit listless on Saturday, finishing eighth in the 500 metres and 18th in the 1,000.
Crockett’s message to McLean post-race, was direct â€” “No excuses. I want PBs.”
McLean, who said she’d been “rattled” after wiping out in practice Friday and “exhausted” on Saturday, responded to her coach’s plea the next day.
“It’s never perfect,” she said. “But I’m definitely happier ending the season on a positive note.”
After earning four bronze medals in World Cup action last season, McLean didn’t medal once this winter.
“It hasn’t been the greatest season,” said Crockett. “She had this whirlwind season last year â€¦ so I would say for the most part she’s underachieved. But the good news is underachieving for her is still really respectable. What I expected for her this season was definitely a lot more podiums.
“But this is a great way to cap the season and realize that she’s on the right track. It just took a hell of a long time to get there.”
Crockett says McLean often keeps pace with the fastest men on the team.
“No other girl in the world can do that, which tells me she has another gear that she’s trying to find in racing,” he said. “If you think about track and field and some girl keeping up to Usain Bolt, it’s not conceivable. But Heather does that, week-in and week-out. We just haven’t translated that completely to racing yet, so that’s frustrating for me. But I’m being patient and my patience paid off.”
Scott Cruickshank, The Canadian Press