The rise of Pascal Dion ~ Passion/Patin/Vitesse - Passion/Speed/Skating


27 janvier 2018

The rise of Pascal Dion

For short track speed skating aficionadoes all around the world, Pascal Dion’s name is already a synonym for “tough opponent”. At twenty-three years of age, Dion already has six World cup medals in his collection: five as a member of the canadian relay team and one on 1000m in Gangneung in the same building where the competition of the Pyeongchang Olympic games will be held. On the eve of his first trip to the Olympics, Pascal Dion generously sat down with us for a little chat between two training sessions.

By Carl Savard
Photos: Schaats Foto’s, Carl Savard and Pascal Dion’s personnal collection.

The base camp

It's at the young age of six that Pascal Dion started going around a track instead of spinning around in figure skating. Since both sports often took place at the same time on different ice surfaces at the Rodrigue-Gilbert arena in Pointe-aux-Trembles, a borough on the eastern part of the Montreal island, Dion just needed to cross the hall to fall in love with the sport he now practices at the international level. “I loved it right away. As a kid you often practice many sports. I was also playing soccer and hockey with my friends at the time. As much as I liked it, speed skating wasn’t a priority at first. It’s around twelve years old that that it became more important. I became more focused. I started dreaming.” After a few years of being coached by great trainers like Annie Sarrat and Marc-André Monette, he knew what he wanted: “My goal was to reach the national team. Considering the canadian history in short track and the amount of great skaters in Canada, reaching the team is the biggest challenge here. Once you’re in, you can start setting other goals.”

The climb

If some careers seem to skyrocket really fast, Pascal Dion’s career could be defined as a steady rise. After competing at the Universiades games during the 2014-2015 season, Dion joined the senior Canadian team the next season and him and his partners won a medal in the team relay event. During the 2016-2017 season, he was able to grab his first World cup medal in an individual event. Last August, he continued his climb by qualifying for the Olympics. Just before the start of the five days competition serving as the qualifying stage for Pyeongchang, Dion told us in an interview that he wanted to picture this important competition as if it was any other regular competition. Something much easier said than done. “It went really well on the first day of the Selections and then nothing went as I thought it would until the last day. I had a some problems with my blades, but mainly I was just thinking too much. I tried new strategies I had never tried before. I jumped out of my normal game plan. I was able to get back on track on the last day.” This exchange reminded me of my discussion with Sasha Fathoullin last year on how stress can make you want to do too much. Pascal Dion ended up winning his place on the Canadian team for the World cup season and Olympic games on the last race of the selection process: “ I have to admit, qualifying for the Olympics was a sigh of relief. With how well I had performed in the last few seasons, I had put a bit of pressure on myself. Joining the Olympic team puts in perspective everything I've done since I’ve started skating.”

The summit

Just a few days before leaving for the biggest competition of his career, Dion is already excited about the opportunity to skate once again in South Korea. In this part of the world, short track speed skating gets as much attention from sports fan as hockey does in Canada or football in Europe. “Even when you’re not racing on the ice, just being in the building, feeling the energy and hearing the roars of the crowd is quite something.” Even though the young man has acquired some international experiences in the last few seasons, it is hard for him to get a grip on how big the Olympic games are. “When you’ve never been there, it’s hard to prepare for it, but you have to focus on doing all the things that normally bring you success and maintain a routine. I know it’s big, but I’ll have to find a way to find balance between enjoying my olympic moment while being ready to perform.”

The upcoming mountains

As it was mentioned before, Pascal Dion is full of praise for the coaches who helped him fall in love with his sport and get better from his days at the Pointe-aux-Trembles speed skating club to the top of the short track hierarchy in Canada. He is now giving back by coaching at the club where he gave his firsts speedy strides, whenever his schedule allows him to. “I remember when Marc-André Monette, our coach at the time, would leave to compete in a World cup event how motivating it was for us to have an active model. I really like coaching. Maybe later in life, it could become an option for me.”  But for now, the twenty-three years old athlete still has plenty of fireworks in store. His career in the spotlight is just beginning and with veteran teammates such as François and Charles Hamelin about to retire, Dion’s performances will be scrutinised more than they ever were. The good news for Dion is that he will be able to share this pressure with other amazing talents such as Charle Cournoyer and Samuel Girard. Before we parted ways, Dion had one last thing he wanted to share with us: “I think one of the only thing that was missing when I grew up as a skater and that is still not optimal is visibility. Our sport is not just the Olympics, we need more coverage during the World cup seasons and the World championships.”

Copy that, Pascal!

As announced on January 24, Pascal Dion will compete on 1500m at the Olympics on Saturday February 10 and will also compete alongside his teammates as part of the Canadian relay team. Based on the success of the team this season, they should be battling in the main final on Thursday February 22.

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