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Armour: Age is Just a Number for Speedskater KC Boutiette

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Photo: Neeke Smit

Parenting lessons aren’t the only reason KC Boutiette is trying to make an Olympic team.

But they are an added bonus.

A trailblazer 20-plus years ago when he made the transition from inline to ice, Boutiette hopes to make history of a different sort at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. At 47, he would be the oldest speedskater to make an Olympic team since Albert Tebbit, who was 52 when he competed for Britain at the 1924 Games.

“My family hasn’t seen this side of my life and I have an opportunity to go to another Olympics. That’s why I’m doing it,” said Boutiette, who competed at the 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006 Winter Games. “And I’ve got a 5-year-old son and he’s learning how to win, how to lose, what it’s like in sport, because you can’t win everything.

“He wants Dad to win so bad,” Boutiette said, recalling a recent meet in the Netherlands where he finished fifth. “After that race, I picked him up and I took him for a lap with me on the ice. That’s our time to talk. That’s our time for me to say, `You can’t win them all. I did my best, I had fun. I was fifth place, still pretty awesome.’

“It’s fantastic for me to be able to live that with him.”

Boutiette won’t lie, though. It’d be even more fantastic if his son could see him on an Olympic podium.

Boutiette did not win a medal in his first four Olympics, his best finish a fifth in the 5,000 meters in 2002. Still, after a brief comeback attempt ahead of the Vancouver Games in 2010, he was happily retired. He and his wife, Kristi, had two small children, and Boutiette was growing his business of custom-made cycling shoes.

Then the International Skating Union announced it was adding the mass start race to the Olympic program beginning in Pyeongchang.

Unlike traditional long-track races, which are essentially a series of two-person time trials, mass start has been likened to a bike race. The 24 skaters start the 16-lap race together, obviously, and there are four sprints throughout the race. The last of those sprints ends at the finish line, meaning the first three across the line get gold, silver and bronze.

Because of the sprints and the breakaways that often precede them, strategy is key, and a skater who is savvy often fares better than one who is simply fast.

Which makes the mass start perfect for Boutiette, who no longer has that finishing burst that made him so successful early in his career but makes up for it with the wisdom gained from more than a quarter-century of racing.

“It caters to somebody with a little bit more brains and a little more patience,” said Joey Mantia, who won the mass start at last year’s world championships. “Obviously, when you’re aged 47, you’ve seen a lot of racing and you’ve done a lot of things. It suits him well.”

He proved that in November with a silver medal at a World Cup race in Nagano, Japan. That made Boutiette the oldest skater ever to win a World Cup medal.

“That was awesome,” Boutiette said, grinning. “When I got on the podium, I was like, should I call it? Should this be it?’ Then me and the wife talk and she’s like, `We’re so close, it’s only a year away.’”

Boutiette won’t know if he’s going to a fifth Olympics until January. But he does know that, no matter what happens, this is it. He also knows what he’d do with a medal should he win one: Chop it up.

No, seriously. Boutiette says he would cut his medal into as many pieces as he could and send them to everyone who has helped him along the way.

“Letting someone wear your medal and take a picture, that’s one thing. But now that picture is going to sit on your phone. But if you send someone a piece of a medal – it’s going to sit in a drawer for me – that would be the coolest thing ever because they’re a part of your team,” Boutiette said.

“That’s the way I look at things and that’s exactly what I would do with my medal,” he said. “You’d have maybe a little piece of a medal and a ribbon, that’s what I would be left with.”

Well, that and all those life lessons he’ll be passing on to his kids.

By Nancy Armour

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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