Winnipegger named to Olympic team 'hell-bent' on skating before she was 3

Winnipegger named to Olympic team 'hell-bent' on skating before she was 3

Heather McLean insisted on getting a pair of skates when she was only two, an age at which many children are still uncertain on their feet even in a pair of sneakers on solid ground.

"She was hell-bent for being on skates and chugging around the oval from almost three years old," Linda McLean said about her daughter.

That determination has taken the 25-year-old speedskater all the way to Canada's Olympic team.

McLean won her way to the Olympics with a first in the 1,000-metre distance on Monday and a second in the 500 on Jan. 5 at Calgary's Olympic Oval. Those races are considered sprints in the world of long-track speedskating.

The four-time World Cup medallist one of the nine women named Wednesday to the 19-member speedskating squad that will compete for Canada at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which start Feb. 9.

McLean's inspiration came from her speedskating older brothers, whom she started watching when she was very young — Linda said Heather's first trip to the oval was when she was just three days old.

By the time she was two, she was already asking for her own skates.

"So I took her out, bought her a $10 pair of used white figure skates ... and took her to the oval with the toboggan, thinking I'll put the skates on, she can sit in the toboggan and she'll be happy," Linda McLean said. 

"She would have none of that — she was skating and I spent the afternoon skating backwards holding her hands."

Her dad, John, said it became clear Heather had something special when she moved on from local meets in Winnipeg and started competing on the world stage.

"She basically proved that she could skate with the big girls," he said. "That's when we realized she's an international athlete and that she can go very fast."

She joined the national team in 2013, when she was 20.

Both her parents and her boyfriend will travel to Pyeongchang next month to watch her compete in the Olympic Games.

It will be McLean's fourth time competing in South Korea, where speedskating is popular and venues are likely to be packed, she said.

It doesn't make her the least bit nervous.

"I really love that," she said about the crowds. "Once I get to the line, at the beginning of my race, I'm standing there, I take a deep breath and all of that noise fades and it's a really cool experience when I can just be in the zone and focus on my race.

"I'm aware that there's people there and I'm aware that they're cheering, but really I can't hear anything — I'm just so focused."

Training outdoors in Winnipeg's frigid winters actually gives speedskaters an advantage, said McLean.

"You really have to love the sport of speed skating to train in Winnipeg because the conditions are so tough," she said.

This will be her first trip to the Olympics, but she follows in the footsteps of fellow Winnipeggers Cindy Klassen, Clara Hughes and Susan Auch, who all won multiple Olympic medals.

She says she was lucky to be able to skate with and meet those women while she was training in Winnipeg.

"They've always been around the oval, they've always been around speedskating," said McLean, who now trains at the Olympic Oval in Calgary.

"They're so willing to give advice, they're there to chat with and they're there if you have any questions, and that's been something that's really meant so much to me."