François Drolet: a short but memorable stint with the national speed skating team
Photo Credit: Le Soleil
Le Soleil article by Jean-François Tardif:
This article has been translated by us for our english viewers.
<<Although short, François Drolet's stint with the Canadian short track speed skating team was nonetheless memorable. Scored by winning one gold and two silver medals at the 1996 and 1997 world championships, it ended with a victory in the grand final of the 5000m relay at the Nagano Olympics.
"I feel like I was privileged that it went so well," said the athlete from Sainte-Foy. “I had played hockey all my youth. And I had started speed skating late since I was 15 years old when I first put on long blade skates. Maybe I was a little too old to one day aspire to the top honors. But eventually things fell into place for me at 25 to qualify for the Games and come back with a gold medal. "
It was a bit of luck that Drolet had learned about speed skating. A few years earlier, his parents had decided to retire him from hockey following the arrival of body checking in the peewee. Following a suggestion from his aunt, his mother then enrolled him in a speed skating club.
“The club also offered power skating. My mother’s idea was, "We're going to make her power skating. If he wants to play hockey later, he won't have lost his skate. " But from the first time I tried long blade skates, I liked it. Gradually, I started to train twice a week and walk into the world of speed skating. I was happy in the short track. I liked the group spirit.
“At the Norbec club, I had the opportunity to train with guys like Marc Gagnon and Frédéric Blackburn. I immediately became a friend with these guys. It motivated and inspired me a lot to see them perform. "
An announced retirement
Even before his departure for Nagano, Drolet knew that his first Games would also be his last. With an entrepreneurial spirit in his veins, he wanted to go into business by buying the inn his father owned. It was clear to him that it was in his university studies in administration that he would concentrate upon his return to Quebec. Aware that Nagano would be his only opportunity to participate in the Olympics, he went to Japan with the firm intention of making the most of his experience without however letting himself be distracted.
“I had a kind of let go. I worked hard to get to the Games 100% ready. But in order not to be nervous, I didn't emphasize my results. "
There is no doubt that the national team prepared well for Nagano. Drolet explains that the Canadian quartet started working with Nathalie Lambert to establish the relay order as soon as she qualified for the Olympics. Le Fidéen adds that he even "stirred" things to get the squad out of Quebec during the ice storm that deprived Montreal of electricity in order to train in Calgary.
“Our performance was the result of good preparation and team spirit, but also the fact that we arrived in Japan a little more relaxed than the others. We see it in some photos. Before the start, all the guys were laughing. But we believed in our chances and we trusted each other. It was "here we go and give it our all". This is what allowed us to have good races at the right time.
“We also did everything we could not to be distracted by the environment. If we wanted to be ready, we couldn't start making tourists. We shouldn't deviate from our routine. ”
The ex-skater says 1998 was a dream year for the Canadian team. In addition to winning gold at the Games, the World Relay Championship and the World Team Championship, she set a world record.
Overwhelmed by his medal, the ex-skater was also overwhelmed by his experience at the Games. A sports fan, he enjoyed every moment of his meetings with Elvis Stojko, Jean-Luc Brassard, Dominick Gauthier, etc. He also met the players of the Canadian hockey team who, for the first time in the history of the Olympics, were professionals.
“At one point when I was in the Canadian team lounge and watching a hockey game, five or six guys walked into the room and came and sat next to me. I found myself between Wayne Gretzky and Joe Sakic. I said to myself: “I'm on a not worse trio”. Then there was one who got up and it was Steve Yzerman who came and sat down. For me, a kid who grew up having fun with the Canadiens and watching hockey, that was really something. "
With his speed skating season over, Drolet started to write the books in order to graduate. He then acquired his father's inn. He says the time and energy required, his "baby" made his transition from athletic career to professional life easier. However, he does not hide that on a few occasions he wondered whether he should not have continued his career for a few more years.
“I let go as I started to get good. I thought it would be interesting to do one more Olympic cycle.But back then, when I made up my mind, I wanted to go into business. The other question that ran through my head was, "Can I get back on the skate?" But I was so 100% in my project that I couldn't have let go of everything to skate. "
Drolet operated the Manoir de Neuville for 14 years. Quickly, he realized that his baccalaureate in administration did not compensate for his lack of experience in the hospitality industry. He believes that of all the challenges he has had in his life, his experience as an innkeeper has been the most difficult and the most challenging. Le Fidéen then returned to speed skating when Yves Hamelin, the director of the short track program in Montreal, offered him a position as a national team equipment technician.
“As an athlete, I was very meticulous about my equipment. I had also developed ways of reading the blades and bending them at the profile level which remained even after my career. So I went to work in Montreal. It was a little bit of a challenge. I had been out of the business for about 15 years. I had to regain the confidence of the athletes and get up to speed. But it still went well. I even went with the Games in Sochi with the team. "
It was when he became a dad that Drolet gave up his job with Canadian training. He didn't feel like he had always been away from home anymore. At the same time, his entrepreneurial flame was rekindled. It was when Muncef Ouardi of the regional training center asked for his help in finding roller skates for the summer training of his athletes that Drolet went back into business.
“I realized that it was difficult for skaters to find equipment in Quebec. So I started a small business to help them. Then I founded Nagano Skate where I involved Derek Campbell, Éric Bédard and Charles Hamelin. With this business, we don't just sell the products that exist. We develop and manufacture our own products such as our sharpening product lines with diamond plates and small roll forming machines. Today we are exporting all over the world. Almost all National Teams use our Frank Signature Sharpening Plates from Nagano Skate. And we also started working on a hockey skate sharpening and profiling project.
“We also have a training component for young people. We offer summer camps. It allows us to share our knowledge with young people and make them dream a little. It’s something that I really like. ”
After having met his needs for competition and adrenaline on the ice of arenas, it was on those of the river that the ex-skater he fed them. About four years ago, he joined the legendary Château-Frontenac ice canoe team. A fan of running, he also played dekhockey. He explains that even though he doesn't compete at Olympic level, he can still push himself so hard and have a lot of fun.
“Lately I've started skating again. I tried clap skates and got the bite. Besides, I have become a follower of the Ring of the Plains. You can really say that I am involved in skating at all levels. ”
Q Outstanding performance?
A My gold medal in the 5000m relay at the Nagano Olympics.
Q Key moment?
R The Universiade de Jaca, Spain (1995). At the time, I was thinking of ending my career. Things were a little worse and I decided to focus on my studies. To my surprise, I was able to stand up to the best in the world and even come home with a couple of medals. I couldn't believe I was at this level. It was a very emotional moment, the most emotional of my entire career, This performance brought me back to my sport. And a week or two later, I made the national team.
Q Outstanding coaches?
R Michel Delisle a guy from Quebec who had already performed internationally and Nathalie Grenier. They allowed me to go from being a good athlete to one of the best in the world.
Q What do you miss the most about your career?
R Travels. I have always liked to travel. It was perhaps the part that I appreciated the most of my career. And the spirit of camaraderie that I found a little bit when working for the national team.
Q What do you not miss?
A To break my head with my blades. Always asking myself if my set-up was correct, if it was optimal. In the long run, it was stressful. When I first started running I thought to myself, “This is the fun of this sport. You don't break your head. You put your shoes on and you are sure it will work ”.
Q The place you visited that you would like to return to?
A I have fond memories of Bornio, Italy. Frédéric Blackburn, one of my good friends, is just there. He has just accepted a job as a coach with the Italian team. I'd say there's a good chance he'll see me ringing out before long.
Q Youth idols?
A It’s really Frédéric Blackburn and Marc Gagnon. They were my idols but at the same time I had the opportunity to get to know them.
Q In 10 years?
A I still see myself working in the speed skating business with Nagano Skate, a healthy, mature company that has taken its market share in the sharpening and profiling of hockey skates and figure skates.
A I have no regrets. I've often wondered if maybe I shouldn't have kept skating for a few more years. But ultimately, I do not regret my journey. He gave me a lot. Certainly my years at the Manoir de Neuville have been difficult and quite stressful. But I don't regret anything.
Q Challenges that you would like to achieve?
A I have started to do a little cross country skiing lately. My friend Jacques Anderson, who coaches me a bit in this, said to me: "François you should try to do the Pentathlon des neiges in Quebec". Chances are, I'll challenge myself, hit the Pentathlon des neiges next year. I would also like to try to participate in the Masters Speed Skating Championships which will be held at the new ice rink in Quebec in 2021. Those could be my two sporting challenges for next year.