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Canada's Isabelle Weidemann skates during the women's 3000-metre event at the ISU World Speed Skating Championships in Calgary on Feb. 15, 2024.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Taking a step back allowed Isabelle Weidemann to take a step forward.

The Ottawa speedskater’s decision to stop racing mid-season was validated by the first world championship medal of her career in an individual distance.

Weidemann took the silver medal in Thursday’s 3,000 metres behind victor and reigning Olympic champion Irene Schouten of the Netherlands.

“The season has not been ideal,” Weidemann said. “To skate my best race of the season at these championships is really awesome.”

Weidemann put down a time of three minutes 58.01 seconds in the fourth pairing for the rest of the field to chase in Calgary’s Olympic Oval.

The 28-year-old was nervous about her time holding up. She and her coach Remmeldt Eldering went for a walk outside the oval while subsequent pairs duelled inside.

Weidemann returned in time to see Schouten better her mark in the final pairing with a time of 3:57.10. Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic, who won the world 3k last year, finished third in 3:58.33.

Weidemann was the 3k bronze medallist in the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. She was a silver medallist in the 5,000 metres and won gold in team pursuit with teammates Ivanie Blondin and Valerie Maltais.

Weidemann was Canada’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremonies.

But a rough start to this season prompted her to shut down competition Nov. 24. She skipped a pair of World Cups in Europe before returning to the start line in January.

“I didn’t feel like I was racing my to my full potential and training was not going great, so my coach and I sat down and we made this kind of last-minute decision to go home after the first two World Cups and take a bit of a pause and reset,” Weidemann said.

“We rewrote the training program to see if we could kind of jumpstart the season again. I’m just so much happier skating. We found the power that I was missing in the fall a little bit.”

Distance speedskaters log many hours of bike training, but Weidemann and Eldering limited her cycling volume during her racing hiatus.

“I didn’t really take a break after the Olympics, and so it adds up for sure,” Weidemann said. “I was feeling that for the first time in my career where I was like ' whoa, I’m very deeply exhausted.

“It didn’t take very long ... for me to feel better, but I’m really glad we made that decision.”

Canada also defended its world titles in men’s and women’s team sprints, which aren’t Olympic events.

Three skaters from each country start the three-lap sprint racing head-to-head against three skaters from another country on the track. One skater drops out after each of the first two laps to leave one middle-distance specialist striving for the finish line.

Calgary’s Anders Johnson, Laurent Dubreuil of Levis, Que., and Antoine Gelinas-Beaulieu of Sherbrooke, Que., edged the runner-up Dutch. Norway took bronze.

Ottawa’s Blondin, Carolina Hiller of Prince George, B.C., and Maddison Pearman of Ponoka, Alta., were victorious ahead of silver medallist U.S. and Poland in third.

Weidemann, Blondin and Maltais of Saguenay, Que., will attempt defence of their women’s world team pursuit title Friday.

The host Netherlands posted the fastest time last year in Heerenveen, but the Dutch women were disqualified for an equipment violation. Athletes are required to wear cut-proof socks that fully cover skin, and one competed with an exposed ankle.

The Canadian women have tinkered with strategy and lap positioning heading into the world championship.

“The most fun part about going to the line with those girls is that we never know,” Weidemann said. “I think we haven’t quite reached our capability and so we’re always searching for that and that’s always really fun.”

Her 3k result also gives the 6-foot-2 Weidemann confidence to empty the tank again in Sunday’s 5k.

“It’s nice to know it’s there,” she said. “In the fall, I kept hoping it was there a little bit, searching for it, and it never was.

“I couldn’t go into the really black dark zone, like empty the tank totally, and so I was upset with how I was racing because I felt like there was so much more that I couldn’t put into the ice.

“I feel like I can totally put it all out there again.”

Patrick Roest of the Netherlands won the men’s 5k in 6:07.28 ahead of Davide Ghiotto of Italy in 6:08.61. Norway’s Sander Eitrem was third in 6:09. Calgary’s Ted-Jan Bloemen ranked fifth in 6:12.66.

The four-day world single distance championships continue Friday with men’s and women’s team pursuits and 500 metres.

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