Q&A: Jordan Belchos, the Toronto-based Olympic speed skater who’s out for redemption
Jordan Belchos, a Toronto-born long-distance speed skater, missed out on the Sochi Olympics in 2014 when he finished a fraction of a second out of contention in a qualifying race. Tomorrow, he laces up to compete in the men’s 10,000-metre race in Pyeongchang. Before the games, we asked him a few questions about his tough training regimen, his Olympian girlfriend and his grisly cycling injury.
You first hit the ice as a hockey player, not a speed skater. What was your career with the Leaside Kings like?
I was always a forward, usually left wing. I wasn’t necessarily the fastest guy on the team, but I had a decent hockey sense. I really loved playing. At the same time, I was also inline speed skating. Those two worlds merged when I started speed skating on ice.
How was the transition from skating on dry surfaces to skating on ice?
There were a few skaters who’d done it before me, including one of the best inline skaters ever, Chad Hedrick—he became an ice speed skating world champion within a year. So I thought, “I’ll just get on the ice and be really good instantly.” It was pretty humbling how bad I was in those first few months. After a year, I made the Canadian junior team and finished fourth at the World Junior Speed Skating Championships.
In 2014, there was some confusion over whether you qualified for the Sochi Olympics or not. Can you set the record straight?
It’s complicated. Sixteen skaters qualified, and I was originally number 16 on that list. But because of a rule I didn’t know about, I was bumped by another skater who had automatically qualified based on his result in an earlier race. In the top 16, there were also a couple of Russians who have since been sanctioned by the International Skating Union for doping. Essentially, though, I missed qualifying by .06 seconds in a race that takes a little over 13 minutes. I couldn’t believe it. Because of the way it went down, people thought I’d made it and congratulated me, and a news article came out saying I’d booked my ticket to Sochi. I had to keep correcting people and telling the same sad story. That became my motivation to qualify for Pyeongchang. I didn’t want to tell that story for the rest of my life.
You qualified for Pyeonchang, and you’ll be racing in the 10,000-metre and team pursuit events. What’s your training schedule like?
It fluctuates so much. A few days ago, we did five and a half hours of stationary biking at a ski resort in the Rockies, for the altitude. On days before races, training sessions are shorter but more intense. Summer is the most intense, but we also get the odd day off or travel day.
You travel a lot, both for competitions and for leisure, and you’re an avid cyclist. What was your most memorable bike trip?
Last spring, when I was in Holland for competition, I visited my now-girlfriend, Valérie Maltais, who’s also a speed skater and an Olympic silver medallist. We’d competed together at the Pan Am Games in Toronto. She and I had both been planning to go on bike trips, so we ended up booking a five-day, 750-kilometre bike tour of Mexico that April. We basically started seeing each other on that trip.
There are some gnarly photos from a bike accident on your Instagram account. What happened?
In June 2013, I was biking at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary. I still don’t really remember the minute before the crash, but I know I collided with a car. I remember waking up on the road, feeling like I was getting up from a nap. There were people all around me and a guy with his hands on my neck. I was super-confused, and I just let the ambulance take me. I didn’t break any bones, but I had a concussion. I missed a little over a month of training.
What are you most looking forward to at the Olympics?
I’m looking forward to seeing my girlfriend. The eight or nine days we spent together in Mexico is actually the longest we’ve spent together in the last 10 months. I’m also excited for my family to have the experience of being there—they’re coming out to support me.
If you weren’t an athlete, what would you be doing?
I went to Western for urban studies, so I eventually want to do industrial design or architecture. I’ve always liked math and art, and those fall somewhere in the middle.