Successful long track coach Marcel Lacroix focused on here & now

Article by Jolanda Abbes - It has been a great year for long track speed skating coach Marcel Lacroix. Among the speed skaters on his team are Christine Nesbitt and Denny Morrison, who won numerous medals at the World Cups and World Championships, and on top of that Lacroix is a coach of the Canadian women’s and men’s Team Pursuit team, which both were successful at the World Single Distances Championships in Salt Lake City at the end of the season. Of course, these great successes create expectations when it comes to Vancouver 2010. Lacroix reflects on the past season and explains how he looks forward to the years to come.

Marcel Lacroix is the coach of a very successful and still young speed skating team. Among the athletes on his group are speed skaters like Christine Nesbitt, Denny Morrison and Justin Warsylewicz, who already competed at the last Olympics and won Olympic medals, yet are still only at the beginning of their speed skating careers at the age of just 22. He also coaches Steven Elm, who has been a member of the Canadian long track team for many years now, and can look back on a good season, that he concluded by finishing 5th in the 1500m at the World Single Distances Championships.

With so many successful speed skaters in his group, it should come as no surprise it is close to impossible for Lacroix to point out one specific highlight of the past season: “I had many highlights this past season. For me highlights don’t necessarily mean podium finishes. They mean achieving some excellent results within the level of expectancy and over and beyond that level of expectancy. If I look at Denny Morrison and Christine Nesbitt, I expected some good results from them throughout the season. But to be that consistent from competition to competition and to skate that well at the different World Championships when the pressure was on, now that’s one of the highlights. If I look at the way Justin Warsylewicz, Steven Elm and Michele D’Amours finished the season in Salt Lake City, I definitely see those performances as big highlights as well. At the same time, the way our women’s and men’s Team Pursuit teams finished the season at the World Championships was also a highlight.”

At the World Single Distances Championships both the women’s and men’s Team Pursuit team ended up on the podium. The women managed to capture the gold medal, whereas the men initially skated a new world record, but had to settle for a silver medal when the Dutch team was able to beat this time shortly after. The year before that the women’s as well as the men’s team earned a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Torino. Obviously, the Canadian Team Pursuit teams are a force to be reckoned with, so one cannot help but wonder if the teams train specifically for this event: “We do and we don’t. What I mean by that is that I believe each skater is getting the right physical preparation with their respective coach and that I don’t need to specifically train the teams in that matter. But I definitely train them specifically for the Team Pursuit in other ways: things like working on exchanges, aerodynamic efficiency and different strategies.”

Even though Lacroix looks back on many highlights this past season, including several medals at the World Cups and World Championships for the individual athletes on his team, looking back now there is one thing he wishes he would have done differently: “I would have liked to see Mike Ireland and Brock Miron achieve better results throughout the season. I was faced with a new challenge in coaching pure sprinters, which was new for me, and I wish I could have done a better job in giving them the kind of coaching they needed. Looking back I know now that I would have done some things differently that would have helped them to achieve better results.”

On the other hand, some skaters on his team were able to surprise him in a positive way: “I have to say Justin Warsylewicz, Steven Elm and Michele D’Amours. All of them accomplished some outstanding results for themselves in Salt Lake City. To skate your best race ever at a World Cup is one thing. But it’s another thing to be able to do it at the World Single Distances Championships. I was surprised, yet at the same time not surprised because I knew they were capable of those results.”

All in all, it has been a good season for Lacroix and he looks back satisfied: “The past season was a very good one for me as a coach, as well as for the majority of my team. At the beginning of the season they all established some goals they wanted to meet and for me, I had my own goals that I wanted my athletes to achieve. I would say that most of them were met and some of my athletes even exceeded those goals.”

At the beginning of this new season, Lacroix can look back on a good summer: “This past summer was probably one the best summer trainings that I have experienced so far in my career. The team was very focused on what they were doing. They trained very hard, harder then ever, and throughout the process they were all enthusiastic and they all smiled most of the time.” Lacroix tested his athletes physically and mentally on many occasions throughout the summer and they never let him down: “They always came through on top without any complaints. This kind of attitude and dedication always pays off in the end.”

For Denny Morrison this past summer was the first summer that he completely spent training in Calgary with the rest of the team. Before that he always went home for a period of time in the summer to get away from Calgary and to train on his own. “He felt he needed that at that time and I supported his decision. But this past summer he recognized the need to be in Calgary all summer long and train with the rest of the team. These steps will pay off in making him a complete skater.” And in fact this decision already seems to be paying off to some extent, because Morrison was able to skate some very fast times in the 500m and 1000m as early as in September.

As for Christine Nesbitt, Lacroix recognizes the fact that she has grown a lot over the past year. At the start of the season, much to her own surprise, she won medals at all the Fall World Cups she competed at and in the end she was able to finish the season with several medals at the World All-round Championships and the World Single Distances Championships. “Christine has matured a lot over this past season, both physically and mentally. She started the season with a bang in achieving some excellent results and was faced with a new situation that she never had to face before. To be on the podium consistently was something completely new for her. Coming back from the Fall World Cups Christine was faced with some medical issues and that did put a temporary halt to her recent successes. But Christine took my advice and the advice of our medical team and trusted us and herself that it would all come back. It did and the Salt Lake City results speak for themselves. She was able to maintain some control throughout that period and as such learned a great deal about herself.”

At the start of this new season, Lacroix describes how he looks forward to the upcoming year: “I look at it as a long-term project. That long-term project needs to be followed by many daily microgoals. Those daily microgoals are part of a process that goes hand in hand with that long-term project. And the most important goal would have to be to have each athlete achieve those microgoals on a daily basis. And then the end results will take care of themselves.” As a result of this approach, these microgoals and the upcoming season are what needs to be focused on and not so much the Olympic Games in Vancouver in 2010: “Even though I have established a long-term plan for my skaters in order to achieve some outstanding results – if everything goes as plan – I don’t really look forward to Vancouver per se. Simply because I know I have a lot of work in front of me and I need to spend my energy on what I can do better today. The way I see it is Vancouver will be the sum or the peak of a long climb. I need to make sure that I focus on each step that I take and not focus my attention on the possible outcome.”

The pressure on the team will probably be enormous in 2010 and many people will expect to see to some outstanding results for the Canadian Olympic team, especially with the home crowd advantage. Still, Lacroix is not willing to take that pressure into account when it comes to his and his team’s preparations for the Olympics: “The press, parents, friends or even the skating community might suggest or even to a certain extent impose their expectations but that’s something we can’t control. The only thing we can control is how we are going to get there and then those expectations will take care of themselves.”

This season Lacroix’ team consists of:
Denny Morrison
Jay Morrison
Justin Warsylewicz
Dustin Johnston
Steven Elm
Adam McCabe
Christine Nesbitt
Michele D’Amours
Kirsti Lay