In terms of breakthrough seasons, it goes without saying that Anastasia Bucsis looks back on one. At the Canadian Fall World Cup Trials in Richmond last October, she surprisingly claimed the overall bronze medal in the 500m, thereby securing a spot on a World Cup team for the very first time. After this she went on to qualify for the Olympic 500m at the Canadian Single Distances Championships/Olympic Trials in Calgary last December. Bucsis reflects on her past season and looks forward to the upcoming one, which she will be skating as a member of the Canadian National Team.
By Jolanda Abbes
It has been a dream season for Anastasia Bucsis. Not only did she qualify for a World Cup team for the first time, but she also got to skate at the Olympic Games in Vancouver when she was only 20 years old. Both have been accomplishments that are still somewhat surreal to her, as she explains: “This past season was such a whirlwind that I still don’t really know what to make of it... It’s surreal to me to think of all that has happened. I had so much fun this year, and I experienced and learnt so much through all of the different opportunities that presented themselves to me... at times it was both exhilarating and exhausting. With that being said though... this past year was amazing and I am so incredibly grateful for all of the experiences and opportunities that I was granted. When I’m an old lady, I’ll look back on the 2009-2010 season with a smile and definitely tell a few good stories from it!”
At the Canadian Fall World Cup Trials in Richmond last October, Bucsis seemingly out of nowhere claimed the overall bronze medal in the 500m, which ensured her a spot on the Fall World Cup team. Back then she was still on the Talent Squad, which made her qualification all the more remarkable. At the World Cup in Calgary in December she then skated a huge personal best in front of her family and friends, and overall looks back positively on her first World Cup experiences: “My first World Cups were incredibly positive; I really didn’t know what to expect, so I just went into them with the goal of learning absolutely as much as humanly possible. My teammates were amazing, I had fun, and I think that my skating and mental strength benefited from it!”
Late December/early January Bucsis then skated at the Canadian Single Distances Championships/Olympic Trials in Calgary in search of a spot on the Canadian Olympic team for the Vancouver Olympics in February. Back then, she was not sure if that would even be a realistic goal, but at the same time she realized it would definitely be worth a shot. Shortly before this competition she said: “I’m not quite sure what my chances are for the Olympics. It’s going to be incredibly hard, so I’m approaching the Olympic Trials with a positive attitude and an open mind. If you were to have asked me about this six months ago, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed.” At the Olympic Trials, Bucsis competed in the 1000m (5th) and the 1500m (11th), but already experienced the absolute highlight on the very first day of competition, in the 500m. She finished third twice (38.83 and 38.81), earning her a second place overall and qualification for the Olympic 500m. Looking back on that day, she reflects: “I had no regrets going into the Trials. I wasn’t confident enough to vocally express my desire to qualify, but in my heart I knew something big was going to happen. I wasn’t nervous, but rather I was just bursting with excitement to race. I had done the training, and I knew that I was physically peaked, and so to be in such a healthy mental space, I knew that good things were going to come – whether that was qualifying or skating a PB, I wasn’t quite sure... but I was confident that it was going to be a great day.”
However, as exciting as it was for her to qualify for the Olympics, there was a downside as well, in that she had been competing for the same spot on the Olympic team against her good friend Tamara Oudenaarden: “The hardest part of the 500m trials was that I had to skate both races against my best friend Tamara and we knew that it was basically a head-to-head qualification... whoever’d win the second 500m would go to the Olympics. People have asked me if it has affected our friendship, and I’m pleased to say that it hasn’t at all!”
After having skated at World Sprints in January in Japan, Bucsis traveled to Richmond to start focusing on the Olympics, which turned into an experience she will not easily forget: “The Olympics were so incredibly amazing that I honestly wish that EVERY single person on this planet could experience them. I can honestly say that it was the single greatest experience I’ve ever had and it was truly the ‘time of my life’. With that being said... I’m not necessarily sad that it’s over, but I do miss seeing and hanging out with all of the wonderful people I met! The Olympics really inspired to me carry on in my skating career and set some goals leading up to 2014!”
In the Olympic 500m, Bucsis skated a 39.87 in her first race, and needed another 39.87 for her second race, good for a 34th finish overall. Reflecting on her Olympic races, she says: “I’m never fully happy with a race – even if it’s nearly perfect. I am always looking to perfect my technique and am never fully content with a performance to the point where I think I can drive my coach a bit crazy. I was proud of myself that I didn’t let my nerves get the best of me at the Games, but I would be lying if I said I was ecstatic with my performance. I gave two solid races – both the exact same time – and I learnt invaluable knowledge of what it means to perform on the world stage. I was the first pair of both races and my second 500m I was paired with Annette Gerritsen, so I had a few extra factors that made my races nerve-racking...” Gerritsen, who finished 4th overall in the 500m World Cup last season, fell in her first race, and consequently had to start early on in the second heat.
Where Bucsis may not have been completely satisfied with her own results at the Olympics, she did enjoy the rest of the competitions going on, though she finds it hard to pick just one race or moment that stood out for her: “The Olympics were really a whirlwind of experiences and emotions... it’s hard to just pin-point one overall highlight because everything was unique and amazing! I of course watched all of the other speed skating events and I tried to watch the short track as much as possible too. I think Christine Nesbitt’s 1000m was an overall highlight because it inspired me so incredibly much, I felt as though I was buzzing for hours after.” In the Olympic 1000m, Nesbitt beat Gerritsen by 0.02 seconds, thus claiming the gold medal in this distance.
When being asked about her personal highlight of the Olympics, be it a race or something else, Bucsis admits to having little memory of her own races: “It’s sort of sad to admit, but I really don’t remember much about my actual races! I remember before the races – being in the locker room with Rempel and Nesbitt – and between races – laughing when finding out I would be racing Gerritsen – but other than that, the whole competition has somewhat escaped my memory. I think honestly one of my overall highlights of the Games was just feeling so incredibly inspired and in love with speed skating after the competition... I fell in love with the sport again and with the simple process of just skating because I love to skate. It was a really nice feeling and I got some great training in! Feeling like a celebrity during the Games didn’t get old either... haha!”
Besides the fact it has been an amazing Olympics for Canada, that according to some may have changed the nation forever, along with it came the pressure for the athletes to perform at home. A lot has already been said about the pros and cons of the Own the Podium program and the added pressure imposed on the athletes by the press. Bucsis reflects on what it meant to her to have the Olympics so close to home: “It’s a bit sad to think that I’ll never have another experience like these home Olympics and crowd... but I am also incredibly grateful that I was able to experience the power of a home Games. I think in a sense it added a bit of pressure because it made everything so much more immediate and accessible. I’d do an interview and would instantly receive 50 texts from friends and family saying ‘Just saw you on TV...’, which wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t a home Olympics. However, with that being said, I still believe that there was more pressure on Canada’s government and funding programs to produce medals and ‘own the podium’...”
But even if she did not skate her best possible race at the Olympics, or may have felt the pressure of performing at home, Bucsis looks back on a season she will never forget. It was a season during which she got to travel extensively for her sport, and skate on the most important sport stage in the world. “The highlight of my season was obviously qualifying and representing Canada for the Olympics. That seems so bizarre to say... I still don’t believe it. I’m still the skinny, awkward girl from Calgary... not an Olympian.” With all these great experiences under her belt, Bucsis is now focusing on the season to come. She has started training with another coach, and is looking forward to what is still in store: “I’m super excited for the upcoming season! With the close of this 4-year Olympic cycle... a lot of changes will come about and a lot of new opportunities to train with fresh, new people. I’m excited to just have fun and learn/experience new things... my number one rule in skating is to always have fun because life is too short to waste your time on skating around in circles if you aren’t enjoying it! I’m training under Mike Crowe this season and it’s been going really well! He’s incredibly technical and a super fun coach. Our whole group is having a lot of fun, training super hard, and enjoying the summer!”
Photo 1, 2 and 5: Lars Hagen/DESGphoto
Photo 3: Erik Pasman, Schaatsfoto’s online
Photo 4: Petra Abbes, Speedskating-online
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