Vincent De Haître: From Tokyo to Beijing in 180 days

Last year, Tokyo 2020 spoke to Canada’s Vincent De Haître, who had recently qualified for the Olympic track cycling team. He is on course to achieve what many would think impossible - two Olympics in 180 days. 

Picture by 2020 Getty Images

180 days. 

Not the 1,447-day Olympiad that would have transpired between the pre-postponement Tokyo 2020 dates and the beginning of the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games. 

Not even the 544-day gap between the original schedule of Tokyo 2020 and the Winter Olympics of Beijing 2022. 

No, Vincent De Haître has just 180 days between competing as a cyclist at next year’s Olympic Games and as a speed skater in the following year’s Winter Games in Beijing. 

If anyone was affected by the postponement of Tokyo 2020, it’s safe to say it was him.

I'll tell you right now that I'm going,

I'm not giving up now.

Selection confirmed

On 29 July, 2020, Canada announced the cycling team that will represent them at next year’s Olympics. Among the names was that of Vincent De Haître, a 26-year-old Ottawa native, who will compete in the Team Pursuit event. 

But this won’t be the first time Vincent De Haître has competed at an Olympic Games. It won’t even be the first sport he has competed in. 

De Haître has raced as a speed skater in two Winter Olympic Games - Sochi 2014 (where he placed in the top 20) and PyeongChang 2018 (where injury disrupted his Games). And he also has his eyes firmly set on the Winter Olympics Beijing 2022. 

So when news of the postponement of the Games - a delay that would directly impact the time he has to prepare after Tokyo 2020 - was relayed to him by his coach, his response may not have been quite what you would have expected.

“I'll tell you right now that I'm going, I'm not giving up now. After two and a half years, I'm not going to give up now.”

Facing up to a new reality

In order for De Haître to successfully transition from cycling at Tokyo 2020 to speed skating in Beijing just six months later, he’ll have to completely redirect his focus, training and mindset.

And he’ll have to do it fast.

“After the Tokyo Games, I'm hoping I can get like a week or two off,” De Haître explained.

“And I’ve got to get back into it pretty quick, because from closing ceremony to opening ceremony is 180 days.”

But if anyone could be prepared for such a drastic change of plans, it would more than likely be De Haître.

Even as far back as choosing the cycling discipline he would compete in, he was already thinking about facilitating the transition back to speed skating.

“I had to pick between the sprint programme, which primarily is anything less than 30 seconds, or the endurance programme, which is four minutes above. I tested well for both,” explained the two-sport Olympian.

“I could have gone in either direction, but I ended up picking the endurance programme because I thought to myself, ‘well, when I want to come back to skating, I'm going to struggle more if I come back from the sprint side'.”

And so the decision was made to focus on the Team Pursuit - an event that shares at least one striking similarity with skating.

“On ice, my top speed is like 60k an hour and on the bike, yes, it's higher, but you'll never hold it for much longer. In a race we average close to the same speeds.”

Because I told myself I can do it...

well, now if I don't do it, I've just lied to myself.

Getting beaten. By everyone. 

You might think that an athlete’s rise to the most elite levels of not one, but two, sports, would be down to natural talent. 

Not so in the case of De Haître. At least if his initial experiences are anything to go by. 

“I got beat by everyone,” he says about his first three years as a speed skater. “I was getting beat by the guys and the girls, and I was nothing special.” 

So what does set him apart from other athletes who can only dream of reaching the heights he has reached?

One obvious trait is the steel-like determination that drives him on to achieve what he has set out to. It’s a determination that see him on course to do what many would deem impossible. 

“I think I told myself I could do it at some point,” he said matter-of-factly. “And because I told myself I can do it... well, now if I don't do it, I've just lied to myself.”

Picture by 2015 Getty Images

First stop - Tokyo

Of course, De Haître’s 180-day Olympic journey has to start somewhere. And what better place than the greatest sporting event on earth: Tokyo 2020.

But while any athlete would dream of a medal, De Haître remains realistic, if still optimistic, about Canada’s chances.

“Based on our world cups, I would say it wasn’t impossible, it was something that was realistic."

“But at the last world championship, we got caught off guard a little bit and ended up with a somewhat bad performance. But we know where we need to change and improve and we’re already working towards that.”

Looking beyond the Games 

What does an athlete like Vincent De Haître do when his Olympic days are over? For someone so addicted to speed, the answer probably isn’t too much of a surprise. 

“I say I want to be a race car driver - and it's only 50 per cent a joke. If someone allows me to drive a car fast, I'm like, yes, obviously I will.”

And you get the feeling that this may have always been part of the plan. Because if you take anything away from an interview with De Haître, it’s that what most people would think of as impossible, is very much within the realms of reason for him. 

So first up, Tokyo, followed by 180 days where he will attempt something that’s never been done before. 

And if he achieves that record-breaking feat, who would argue against any of his dreams, no matter how fanciful they may seem.