Short Track

Manon Gilbert - Friday Jan. 17, 2014 13:09 ET

Marie-Ève Drolet better prepared for Olympics 2nd time around

Canadian short track veteran doesn't regret 12 years between Games

Marie-Ève Drolet
Canadian short track speed skater Marie-Ève Drolet was inspired to make a comeback after watching the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. (Canadian Press)

Marie-Ève Drolet has taken a pretty long detour before getting to Sochi. The Canadian athlete, who will turn 32 on Feb. 3rd, could've been participating in her fourth Olympics. Instead, she will only be at her second, after the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Instead of riding the wave of success after her bronze medal in relay and her 4th place in the 1,000 metres in the Mormon capital, the short track speed skater took the whole sport, and media world, by surprise with the announcement of her retirement in the fall of 2002.

Many saw in her the perfect successor of Nathalie Lambert, Isabelle Charest or Annie Perreault, but she had other plans in mind.

“I wanted to stop. I no longer wanted to be an athlete; I wanted to be a student. I was only 20, so I wanted to do other things. I wanted to travel, make new experiences,” she explains.

She took a long pause of six years, during which she travelled from Montreal to Victoria, by way of Brazil, Thunder Bay and High Level in Alberta, where she spent a summer planting trees. She took advantage of all this time to get a degree in psychology, learn English and study acupuncture, all the while working in a daycare.

The 2006 Turin Games, which she watched without regrets, planted the seed for a return. They worked as some kind of triggering element that kept on developing over two years before leading to her final decision in the fall 2008.

“Once I completed all the travelling and the studies that I wanted to do, I started feeling that my life was empty again, that I needed a new challenge. So, I found that challenge.”

Coping with change

Her comeback did not happen without clashes. First, before her retirement, she used to study at the local college in Chicoutimi, lived with her parents and only trained in the evening. In 2008, away from the comforts of her family nest, she had to join a National Centre for training, by now an obligatory route for anyone who may want to be part of the Canadian team. She chose Calgary as the place to start skating again.

If within a month she was back in the same shape as she used to be, the biggest shock came because of the sport itself, which had drastically changed during her absence. The other women had become more aggressive, the strategies had changed to allow an athlete to modify her trajectory to prevent someone else from passing her…all this was disconcerting for the girl who had been junior world champion in 2000 and 2001.

“I was physically strong, but in terms of competing, I wasn’t, I was getting pushed around, it was too aggressive for me. I was not used to getting tossed around. So, I have had to learn to manage this and to remain physically strong when someone touched me. That was a huge change that I had to face in my first year back”, recounts Drolet, who is now pursuing some studies in naturopathy.

In fact, she still misses those first years on the world circuit.

“I’m not the kind of girl who tries to push the others. I like to win on my own, and to do the race that I want, instead of thinking about creating a trajectory to harm my competitors. I want to win my race on my own without all that.”

Not having enough time to adapt to these changes in the one year before the Vancouver Games Olympic trials, she failed to qualify and finished 6th-place.

A disappointment, sure, but not enough to make Drolet back down; she’s not the type of person to leave things unfinished.

“I knew that I had to continue, my goal was to go to the Olympic Games when I made the decision to come back. I’d rather be better for Sochi than be just okay for Vancouver.”

Mission accomplished

Drolet can now declare her mission accomplished. She has won a spot on the Olympic team, despite an injury to the sacroiliac bone (pelvis) which caused her to miss the last three trial races and the first three World Cup events of the season.

The wait will be worth it. From a physical point of view, the eldest and calmest member of the Canadian team feels better prepared than before the Vancouver Games. Mentally, she also feels better prepared, mostly thanks to her studies in psychology. Looking back, she concedes that the pressure and the stress had suffocated her and pushed her toward an exit back in 2002.

“I feel ready. Before the Olympic trials, I told my coach that this was the first time that I felt really ready before a competition. I am a perfectionist, and often I tell myself that I’m not ready yet, that I still need a little more time. There are many things that have changed since 2002”, notes Drolet, who won her ninth and 10th individual medals at the World Cup last season.

To the point that this time, she will think twice before announcing her retirement…because now, after having tried her hand at jobs that were not always fun, she really appreciates her coddled life as an athlete.

“When I was 20, I would have not realized it. I am proud of what I’ve accomplished, of having taken a detour, and in the end, it all turned out well. I’m happy that I was able to accomplish the challenge that I had given myself.”

This story has been translated from French and edited by CBC Sports 


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