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Oudenaarden skates into Olympics

“I did a little victory dance after they told me. I got really excited,” a giddy Oudenaarden told the Gazette during a brief stop in St. Albert on Wednesday. “It’s a dream come true to me.

“I did a little victory dance after they told me. I got really excited,” a giddy Oudenaarden told the Gazette during a brief stop in St. Albert on Wednesday. “It’s a dream come true to me. Ever since I became a speed skater [at age seven] it was always my goal to become an Olympic athlete.”

The product of the Edmonton Speed Skating Club joins hockey players Jarome Iginla and Meaghan Mikkelson and curler Marc Kennedy as St. Albert’s Olympians for the Vancouver winter games.

“It’s so surreal when I think about it,” said Oudenaarden, a standout volleyball player in high school with the Bellerose Bulldogs. “It’s going to be such an amazing experience.”

The 22-year-old is listed on the Canadian depth chart as a substitute skater as one of four female competitors in the 500-metre event, which takes place Feb. 16 at the Richmond Olympic Oval.

“Anything can happen at the Olympics,” she said. “I just want to skate my best, have fun and take in this experience fully and enjoy myself.”

Last month at the Canadian Olympic long track trials at the Calgary Olympic Oval, Oudenaarden set a personal best time of 38.78 in her specialty race.

“I can go faster than that,” she declared. “The ice at Calgary that day was not very fast and not a whole lot of people were skating PBs. I felt really strong and it was a good race to have at trials with so much pressure being put on it. If there was a race that I was a little more relaxed for it and if I skated in it perfectly then for sure I can go faster.”

Olympic hopefuls were competing for three spots in the 500m, with the final results a combination of the two races. In the first race Oudenaarden was clocked at 38.89. The time was later adjusted to 38.99 because her original time was incorrectly transcribed by officials.

In the second 500m race Oudenaarden was the runner-up with the fastest time of her career.

“At the trials there were a whole lot of emotions going on and lots of ups and downs because I was told I had made the team and then I was told I didn’t. It was just a huge emotional rollercoaster,” Oudenaarden said. “It was super difficult because all my family and friends were there and all the speed skaters and I were celebrating for quite a long time and just as I was about to leave the Oval [Speed Skating Canada officials] pulled me into a boardroom and told me there was that mistake so that was pretty difficult to hear.

“There was nothing I could do about it. I had a race [1,000m] in two days so I tried to refocus as much as I could and go into that next race and just give it my all because really that was my only option.

“With all the stuff that happened before it was super emotional and I was down for a good day and a half. If that hadn’t happened I think [the 1,000m] could’ve gone a lot better than it did but at least I had the fastest start.”

Because of the timing snafu, Oudenaarden wasn’t too sure how to react when it was announced she was among eight females named to the Olympic team.

“I was like, ‘Is this for real? Are they telling me the truth this time?” she recalled. “I didn’t get overly excited. If it would’ve been at trials it would’ve been a different reaction for sure than just a little victory dance.”

It wasn’t until she arrived back in Calgary earlier in the week from the World Sprint Championships in Japan that the magnitude of the moment hit her like a ton of bricks.

“We went to the Olympic Oval and got our Olympic suits and on that same day the torch was in Calgary. It was a really cool feeling when the torch came into the building. I got goose bumps. That was like my first, ‘You’re going to the Olympics and this is your evidence,’ kind of thing,” Oudenaarden said. “It was a huge reality check for me. It made you that much more excited to go and I have so many great teammates that are going along with me too that are so encouraging so that makes it even that much better.”

The road to the world’s largest winter sports spectacle was a pressure cooker filled with highs and lows.

“It was pretty tough leading up to the Olympics. It wasn’t a four-year procession like some of the Olympians who had gone through the last Olympics and had been training specifically for this Olympics. I just moved to Calgary after the last Olympics so I’ve been just working on moving up in the competitive world of speed skating but in the past two years it’s really been on my mind and I’ve been training specifically for it. It was like everything was geared towards the Olympics,” she said. “The two weeks leading up to the Olympic trials I started putting more pressure on myself. I was always thinking about it and it was always on my mind, which is not really ideal. It was my first time going into an Olympics trials so I didn’t really know how to go into it perfectly but I tried my best not to freak out, but obviously I was new and green to all of it so I was pretty nervous.”

Oudenaarden realized she had a shot at the Olympics after a strong showing at the 2009 World Single Distance Championships at Richmond.

“It was my first one and it was kind of like a mock Olympics the way they organized it,” she said “I ended up having one of my best finishes in world placings [18th in the 500m] and because it was the same competitors that would probably be at the Olympics, that’s where I really thought the Olympics was possible for myself.”

Short distance racing is where Oudenaarden shines the brightest.

“It’s something that I’ve always excelled at,” said the top-ranked Canadian female in the 500m in 2008/09. “I’ve always been a sprinter. I have that muscle type for it. It’s a difficult race because you need to have it perfect. If you don’t have a perfect race then it’s kind of a shot race so the need for perfection and to have it good is always a challenge.”

The latest international meet for Oudenaarden was the recent sprint championships.

“I was 12th in the 500 and then 20th in the 1,000 so that was pretty good for me,” she said. “My second day I had some skate problems [and finished 24th in the 500m and 20th in the 1,000m] and because the second day was not as good I finished 19th [in the final ladies classification]. It was still pretty good for me but I know I could’ve been a lot higher with my 500 that weekend.”

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