First season as a senior about to begin for Philippe Riopel
Philippe Riopel (20) looks back on a good last year as a junior. At the end of the 2006-2007 season he was presented with the ‘Rising Star Award – Long Track’ by Speed Skating Canada after some great results at the World Junior Championships that year, and last season he proved to be worthy of that award. He won the 500m at the World Junior Championships, broke several junior Canadian records, and on top of that he skated at his first World Cup, in Hamar. All in all, it has been a busy season for Riopel, which has made him hungry for the one to come.
By Jolanda Abbes
How do you look back in general on the past season, your final season as a junior?
“Last season was really satisfying for me. I realized most of the goals I had set for myself before the season with my coach. I did my first World Cup, won the 500m at Junior Worlds, skated a few junior national records throughout the season, and I even held a junior world record for about 8 minutes. The only thing that I was disappointed about was my overall standing at Junior Worlds, but the rest of the season was really good.”
So you skated your first World Cup ever, this past season in Hamar. How do you look back on that experience?
“Hamar was amazing! It was my first trip with the senior team overseas and I really enjoyed it! It was also my first time being present at a World Cup in Europe and it was awesome to see the crowd react as the skaters would cross the line lap after lap.”
How do you look back on your results in Hamar?
“I am very satisfied with my results in Hamar. It was my first World Cup and I ended up sixth of the B group in the 1000m and the guys that were ahead of me, were Olympians and World Championship skaters. I think I had a pretty good race even though my pair totally killed me, but in long track you are racing the clock, not your pair. I didn’t really have any expectations before the race since it was my first time skating on slower ice this year; I didn’t really know what to expect with my time but when I look back on the race, I think it was really good and I am happy with the result.”
How do you look back on the junior Canadian records you skated last season?
“In the 500m, I already had the junior national record from the year before, so every time I got a new personal best in the 500m, I got a new record. At the ING Finale in Calgary I was paired with Tim Salomons and I knew he had a good 500m. On the opener I felt awesome, everything felt great. I opened in 9.96, my first time under 10 seconds, and when I got on the back-stretch I tried to get right behind Tim, since I was coming out of the outer lane. The last inner was great too, solid corner, and the last straight, I was just trying to push as hard as possible into the ice. Once I crossed the line and saw my time, 35.34, I couldn’t really believe it since it was almost a 0.5 second personal best.”
“In the 1000m, it was also from Finale. It was going to be my last race of the season since I had already raced the all-round short and this was the second 1000m of the sprint program. This was going to be my tenth race of the weekend, so I was a bit tired but I really wanted to do good to finish off my junior career. Luckily I had the inner lane, so I knew I had a good chance of getting a personal best and also the day before I had pb’ed from the outer lane so I was looking forward to that race. I had one of my fastest openers in that race, then I came around after the first lap to see a 25.1, so I knew I was on pace for a good race. I went ‘over the top’ on my pair on the last crossover and tried to keep it together all the way to the line. When I saw my time, 1:08.56, I was happy and disappointed at the same time since pretty much every day of the year at training I would look at the board in the second corner where they have all the junior and senior world records and I could see Beorn’s 1:08.53 and I thought that it would be possible to put a maple leaf next to that 1000m and hopefully my new personal best next to it. But unfortunately I was 0.03 short of doing so. I’m still very happy about that race though!”
“In the 1500m I broke the junior national record at the Canada Cup 1 during the first week of January. The ice was really fast and I was feeling pretty good on the ice so I thought I should try and go for it. The first 300m I went all out to really get my speed, then I was just trying to carry it. I built the third corner really hard to get my speed to get into the second lap, then built the fifth corner again really hard to get speed for my last lap and then just went all out until the end of the race. It ended up giving me almost a 1 second personal best: 1:46.49.”
How do you look back in general on the World Junior Championships in China, at which you finished seventh overall after winning the 500m?
“I think Junior Worlds were pretty good. Not what I expected, but still pretty good. I was hoping to be up there fighting for the title, but I just didn’t have it in me that weekend. The 500m was good too but I think it could have been better still. It was maybe my worst weekend of the year, so I can’t really be all that mad after finishing seventh junior in the world.”
How do you look back on the 500m at the World Junior Championships?
“The 500m at Junior Worlds was ok, not great but not bad. I had a pretty good first 100m with a 10.04 even though I had a little slip. As I came out of the first outer, I went over the top on my pair and started thinking about my last inner. The last corner was decent too, so was the home-stretch, but there was nothing special about the race and I think I was tired and could have done better. I think my 500m from Finale was one of my best races of the year and I wish I could have had it at Junior Worlds, because I think it would have put me closer to the other guys after the 5000m.”
According to you, what might have been the reason(s) for the slightly lesser overall results at the World Junior Championships compared to the year before, when you finished fourth overall?
“I think I was a bit tired at Junior Worlds. Also I had put a lot of pressure on myself because I wanted to do good and after the first day I knew that the overall title was almost out of reach. It was really hard mentally to stay motivated when after each race I skated, I was going down in the overall.”
What would you consider to be your most important improvement(s) over the past season and why?
“My biggest improvement last year was probably the fact that I was able to have good races even though I would race every distance possible in a weekend. For example, at the Canam competition in Calgary I skated 2 x 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m and 3000m and 10k on the same day, so it was a total of seven races in only three days, or Finale where I raced ten races in five days. I really like every distance, so I would only skip one unless I was injured or if there would be no point in doing this one distance.”
How do you look back on the summer and what were important points for you to focus on during summer training?
“My big goal this summer was to get bigger and stronger. If you look at the other middle distance guys, they are all built a lot bigger than the skaters you would see at Junior Worlds and I think getting stronger and working on my technique is what I need to do right now.”
You’re in a new group now, training with Marcel Lacroix. Why are you in the group with the middle distance men and not, for example, in the sprint group?
“I got moved from Neal Marshall’s to Marcel Lacroix’s group this year. Last year with Neal I was really focusing on and training for the longer distances, like the 5000m and the 10k, and for the past two years now I made the World Cup team in the 1000m even though I wasn’t training for it, so this year we figured that if I would start focusing on it, I should be able to do even better at it. Also, I don’t think I would like to be part of a sprint group because I feel like I would close all the doors for the other distances that I still enjoy racing, so I think the middle distance group is perfect for me.”
How are you enjoying working with Marcel Lacroix?
“Marcel is a VERY experienced coach. It is awesome to train with him this year, him and his skaters. Marcel probably coached every sport possible on skates except for figure skating. He really knows what he is talking about and knows how to build a training program. It’s also really easy to communicate with him, as we are both from Montreal, where the first language is French.”
How do you look forward to the upcoming season, your first season as a senior?
“I don’t really know what to expect for next season. I am hoping to make some World Cups and I think training with my new group is going to help me the most to achieve my goal.”
Photo 1 + 2: Arno Hoogveld
Photo 3: Petra Abbes