Age, it has been said, is just a state of mind.
And in his coach’s mind, Vincent De Haître’s age should not be a drawback for success at the highest level – specifically the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“I think Vince has the maturity mentally and the experience to perform well at the Games,” Bart Schouten said of the 23-year-old speed skater. “There’s no reason why his age should be a limiting factor for him skating well. I think he’s more mature, and he’s very good under pressure. It’s his second Olympics, he’s been there before; he has some experience. But I really think mentally he’s very tough and performs when he needs to.”
Ever since bursting onto the national long track scene in 2013, de Haître – originally from Cumberland, Ont. – has methodically worked his way up the ladder in the 1,000 metres and 1,500 metres, becoming Canada’s best hope for a medal in both of those distances.
That maturity, that focus, that sense of purpose is something he apparently wears on his face.
“Before the world single distance championships last year in Korea,” related Schouten, “someone took a picture of him getting ready on his bike, warming up, and just the stare that he had in his eyes, you could see he was getting ready and super focused. You don’t want to cross his path when he has that look in his eyes.
“And he performed extremely well, winning a silver medal and a fourth place in the 1,500m. And this time, before the (Olympic) trials, he had that same stare; there’s a great picture out there taken by Arno Hoogveld from the Oval that has him on his bike, staring, and again you know he’s ready to go. And he showed it; he skated two incredible races at the trials, so that’s one area Vince has been super strong. He performs when it counts, so we know whatever day in February he has to race, we can count on him to be ready. He finds a way to rise to the occasion and perform even better than sometimes you expect.”
De Haître makes a return appearance at the Olympic Games, after being an unexpected addition to the 2014 team in just his first senior season. His finishes in Sochi were to be expected, 20th in the 1,000m and 33rd in the 1,500m, but the handful of medals he’s picked up on the World Cup circuit since then, including in the team sprint, has been an indicator of his progression.
“In the first one, the biggest thing was just to learn what it was like to just be at the Games,” de Haître explained. “It was a big surprise for me to qualify; I even told my parents, don’t bother coming up to trials, I won’t win, I won’t qualify, don’t show up. I ended up qualifying.
“These games are about putting together what I’ve been working on for the last four years and being one of the best.”
He was terrific at the Olympic trials, which doubled as the Canadian single distance championships, in early January at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, the only skater to better the national standard in both of his races.
“I think Vince has really come on strong the last two years,” Schouten acknowledged. “In talking, he indicated he wanted to train more like a long-distance person and do a lot of work with our long-distance skaters, so we did that. This year, we chose to have Vince in a team pursuit pool, which means we do more laps at higher speeds. So I think that’s really paid off for him to do all of that training. His endurance has improved a lot. This year we’ve also chosen to work a little more on his openers, his starting speed for the 1,000 metres and 1,500 metres, and that’s come along really well.
“He has the whole package; he has a good opener, he’s always had a very high absolute speed, so he’s a guy who can go 61k an hour. There’s not a lot of guys in the world that can do that. And he has the great endurance now. He’s shown he’s a medal candidate.”
In the 30 days prior to these Games, de Haître planned to prepare as he always has, continue to build up his confidence, play board games (such as Jenga) and watch TV. That’s a big one.
“I definitely watch a lot of Netflix,” de Haître revealed. “Actually, yesterday for my race prep, I watched a Rocky Balboa movie, the fifth one. I was trying to think, what do I want to watch that’s inspirational? I was, like, ‘I’ll watch Rocky Balboa No. 5.’ Last year, I watched all five leading into the competition.
“Rocky comes out of retirement to fight the new heavyweight champ and the new heavyweight champ hasn’t had much competition in a while. Rocky is an old guy and (his trainer) says ‘you know you’re not as fast as you used to be, but we’ll make you strong and we’ll teach you how to punch once very hard.’
“There will definitely be more ‘Rocky’ watching!”
“They’re classics, everyone knows what they are.”
He’s hoping that by the time the speed skating competition at Pyeongchang is over, everyone will know who Vincent de Haître is, as well.
Rita Mingo is a longtime sportswriter who has covered one Olympics, the CFL, NLL and Triple-A baseball and was the Fred Sgambati Award winner for national university sports coverage in 2016. Follow her on Twitter @RitaMingo.