Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Alison Desmarais aspires to become an Olympian.
The Métis Nation of Alberta member competes with the Canadian national NextGen (developmental) team in long track speedskating. She’s in her second season and trains in Calgary.
Desmarais was a member of the Canadian national NextGen (developmental) short track squad from 2018 to 2020, but that group trains in Montreal.
“I don’t speak French so the move to Montreal was really hard for me. And after a year I just decided I wanted to move back to Calgary,” she said. She was halfway through her studies at the University of Calgary, Desmarais explained, so it made sense to move back to western Canada.
Desmarais, who is 26, believes she is making giant strides in long track speedskating, which is contested on 400-metre courses. As for short track, races are usually held on tracks that are about 111 metres long.
“Considering I’m still pretty new to long track I still feel like I’m improving quite quickly every season,” Desmarais told Windspeaker in an interview moments after she competed at a World Cup 1,000-metre women’s race in Quebec City on Feb. 2.
Should she continue to improve, Desmarais said she just might have what it takes to become an Olympian as early as 2026. The next Winter Olympics is scheduled that year in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy,
“It’s hard to know two seasons out how many spots we’ll have, how we’re skating,” she said. “And everything changes season to season, sometimes even weekend to weekend. But I think my chances are pretty good. The preparation is looking good for me.”
Desmarais said she is still adjusting to the switch in disciplines a couple of years later.
In long track she only skates against one other competitor. But there are several other entrants in races and the participant with the fastest time wins.
“The biggest difference for me that I think I’m getting better at is the mindset,” she said. “In short track you’re racing six, eight other people on a hockey rink and it’s all about crossing that line first. The time doesn’t matter so much because if you’re in first, you’re in first. Maybe everybody was slow but you still won.
“Whereas in long track you can win your pair but you still might be 15th because there are so many other pairs. So, it was a big mindset shift for me to be as fast as I can off the line every time. One chance and you’re done.”
Desmarais did have a rather successful meet in Quebec City. She placed third in her 1,000-metre event.
“I’m very happy with my race,” Desmarais said. “We just came from Salt Lake City. Two weeks ago, at the Four Continents championships, I did not have my best weekend so my confidence was a little shaken. But I was coming off a cold and it affected me a lot more than I thought.”
Despite ending up on the podium in her 1,000-metre race, Desmarais believes she could have fared even better.
“I think I could have come off the line a little faster and gotten a few tenths or at least hundreds of a second in the bank there,” she said. “But other than that, I’m happy with the way I built through the race. And even though you’re tired at the end, I hung on and didn’t die too much.”
Desmarais also placed second in her 1,500-metre race on Feb. 4.
Besides being an elite athlete, Desmarais is also putting her university degree to good use. She earned a Bachelor of Science in exercise physiology and is working as a strength coach for aging populations at Zeal Performance.
“Our gym is a local Calgary-owned gym and we have programs for adults of any age,” Desmarais said. “We have mid-20s to mid-80s.”
The Quebec City meet was the sixth and final World Cup event for the 2023-24 season. The other events this season were held in Calgary, Salt Lake City, Milwaukee, Nagano and Beijing.
Desmarais participated in women’s B races in Quebec City. This grouping is for those who are currently not in the Top 20 in the World Cup points system.
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