She’s happy to be back in her own bed now, but Wren Acorn said she wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.
The 19-year-old Yellowknife speedskater is back home following one of the busiest stretches of her young career. The highlight of that was competing with Team Canada at the 2023 Winter World University Games, better known as Universiade, in Lake Placid, New York, last week. She earned her spot through the Canadian Short Track Invitational in Montreal, finishing second overall among athletes who were eligible for Universiade.
Short-track speedskating was contested between Jan. 19 and 21 with Acorn seeing action in the women’s 1,000-metre and 1,500-metre events, along with the women’s 3,000-metre relay.
“I recognized a lot of the names from the other teams,” said Acorn. “The Koreans sent a really strong team. France and China each had a World Cup skater and I realized we’d be competitive with the team we had simply because we have the depth that a lot of other countries don’t.”
Acorn began with the 1,500-metre race on Jan. 19, her bread and butter distance. Her quarter-final saw her finish fourth; only the top three from each quarter-final were guaranteed to move on to the semifinal under what is known as the 3+2 system. The +2 means that the two fastest non-qualified times would advance to the semifinal and that’s how Acorn moved on.
“I had a look at the start list and only saw two names I knew,” said Acorn. “I knew one of them was better than I was, but I definitely felt more comfortable as the races went on.”
The Yellowknife athlete finished fourth in her semifinal — only the top two moved on to the A final and the medals — meaning she was skating for placing, and ended up finishing third in the B final, good for 10th place overall.
Next up was the relay and Acorn skated in the semifinal, helping Canada to a second-place finish, a spot in the A final and a shot at a medal. It wasn’t meant to be, though, as the ladies ended up fourth in the final and on the outside looking in.
Acorn, who was the alternate for the final, said an early fall hampered things.
“It’s better to have that happen early to allow the team to catch up, but we just weren’t able to,” she said.
Her final event was the 1,000-metre and it was a short one as she was penalized in her heat and wound up disqualified. It was an arm block that spelled doom, something Acorn attributed to mental fatigue.
“I’m a clean skater; I don’t habitually do stuff like that,” she said. “My awareness was starting to slip and that’s where it all went downhill. I just have to remember to leave myself space and have that awareness of what’s going on around me. I could have gone through, but it’s a tough lesson to learn.”
Canada Cup aspirations
It was the conclusion of a busy stretch of skating for Acorn, who was on the ice before Universiade at the Canada Cup event in Laval, Que., Jan. 13 to 15. She finished 10th overall there with a total of 4,533 points from her six events. Each of the six events had a point total attached to it with the four best events counting toward a skater’s final score.
Acorn said that result was her best national-ranked finish ever, and it’s pushing her closer to the Canada Cup national team.
“It wasn’t like back in October (Canadian Short Track Championships) where I had a sixth-place finish to help bump up my total — I fought for all my results,” she said. “I was consistent the whole way through and no one distance saved me. It’s reassuring to see where I find myself right now and it means I’m getting close.”
But it’s time to relax now for Acorn. After all, she’s had more than two dozen world-class races in the span of a couple of weeks.
“Lake Placid ran an awesome event and they set us up super well,” she said. “We got to watch a hockey game, played some pond hockey and watched some long-track speedskating. My dad, cousin, aunt and uncle were there to cheer me on all week and the support from our families was all there.”