When William Dutton traces the genesis of his speed skating career, he remembers candy and a father’s ingenuity.
“He drove me crazy as a little kid. I couldn’€™t keep track of him because he was always running off somewhere,” William’s father, Craig Dutton, said. “I took him to the arena to watch his older sister skate when he was 2 and the only way to contain him was to put him on skates inside the boards. The problem was, he just stood there and cried.
“I had this Canadian candy, Smarties, which is just like M&Ms. I gave him one to stop him from crying and it worked. So it occurred to me that I could get him moving if I placed them in a row along the boards.”
Twenty-two years later, William is chasing far greater rewards. Dutton who is the grandson of Coyotes co-owner W.R. “Bill” Dutton, earned on a spot on the Canadian Olympic team and will compete in the 500- and 1,000-meters races in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 10 and 12.
Dutton, 24, qualified in both events events by finishing third and fourth, respectively, in those events at Canada’€™s Olympic trials in Calgary in December.
“I am obviously very happy but I am also there to accomplish something, so I will try not to get caught up in the magic of the games,” William Dutton said. “I expect to be a contender and to surprise people.”
Like many speed skaters, Dutton has overcome his share of injuries, including an Achilles injury, recurring back problems, a hard crash into the wall at his first World Cup race this season in Calgary in which he was taken off on a stretcher, and a nasty cut to his thigh and calf during a race that required 12 stitches, two weeks of healing and a cooling off period for his dad, who thought he had severed the femoral artery.
But the greater challenge for most Olympic athletes is the mental challenge. Training hours are long and grueling and most of their achievements are accomplished away from the spotlight. Dutton reached his make-or-break moment last year while battling back problems.
“I decided in March of 2013 that if I was going to make the Olympics I needed to make a change. I hadn’t made much progress over the course of three years and felt as though my opportunity was slipping through my hands. I decided I needed to become more independent and take control of my own career, chase after my dream the way I thought best,” said Dutton, who switched coaches and moved to Oslo, Norway to train with former Olympian Peter Mueller. “It was a big gamble to switch coaches and programs less then a year away from the Olympics but for me I would rather try and fail then avoid risk and miss the opportunity. The choice to switch also meant I would lose the support of the Canadian National team so I was really on my own.”
Mueller was the first Olympic champion in the 1,000M when that distance was introduced at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. But he gained even greater notoriety by training some of the Olympics’ greatest stars, including Bonnie Blair when she won two gold medals at the 1992 Winter Olympics, Dan Jansen when he won gold at the 1994 Winter Olympics, Marianne Timmer (two gold medals) and Jan Bos (silver) at the 1998 Winter Olympics, and Gianni Romme (silver, 2002).
“The first day of training seemed impossibly hard to me; I had never trained that hard in my life,” Dutton said. “I was gasping for air and practically crying from the searing pain that filled my legs. I could barely bend down to pick up the food from my bottom cupboard.
“There was one specific day I remember, we trained for three hours in the morning, then had training in the afternoon. We maxed our bodies out after and hour then my coach said ‘alright, now we work!’ Turns out we had just warmed up for the three, maximum-effort, two-minute hill sprints.”
As the months passed, Dutton felt himself getting stronger, both physically and mentally.
“I really started to believe in myself again,” he said. “That’s something Team CBA and my coach Peter Mueller helped me find again: Belief.”
Dutton will have a large contingent of family and friends on hand in Sochi as he chases his Olympic dream and the records of his childhood idols, like 500M record holder, Jeremy Wotherspoon.
Dutton was born in Regina and subsequently lived in Estevan and Saskatoon before his family settled in Humboldt, Saskatchewan when he was 12. But he will also be representing his grandfather’s new team, the Coyotes — a team he adopted as a kid because he just liked their uniforms — when he steps onto the oval. Per Olympic rules, Dutton won’t be allowed to wear his Coyotes hat until after the race but he will have a Coyotes pin subtly placed on his uniform and he is contemplating other ways to honor his favorite NHL club.
“Maybe I can paint a coyote on my face or something as war paint for my race,” he said.
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