There are no more secrets about Wren Acorn anymore.
If the rest of the country didn’t know before, they now know just what she’s capable of.
Acorn was Team NT’s best solo athlete at the Canada Winter Games in terms of results as the 15-year-old speedskater from Yellowknife left week one with three top-10 finishes under her belt: seventh in the girls 1,000-metre, eighth in the girls 1,500-metre and a win in the B final of the girls 3,000-metre points race, giving her ninth place overall.
If Acorn herself was to give a synopsis of how well she did, it would be simple: fantastic.
“I had a blast,” she said. “Great competition and such an amazing experience. My coach (Shane Clark) has been to two previous Games and he was telling us how great it would be and it was even better than he described it.”
Acorn’s first final was the 1,500-metre on Feb. 8, having managed to win her heat and advance through her quarter-final race, avoiding the repechage, and then finishing second in her semifinal race.
She was guaranteed to finish no worse than eighth and had Team NT’s first real shot at a podium finish. At one point in the race, Acorn was up to third but she was bumped out by an Ontario skater, which was ruled incidental contact by the officials, thus no penalties.
Acorn was at the back of the pack with three laps remaining and was getting ready to make a move on the outside, a place she says is the best spot to be in a short-track race, but it all went to rot coming around the back turn.
“Claudia Heeney of Ontario fell and took me out,” said Acorn. “I was getting ready to start moving up but I couldn’t avoid the fall.”
It was disappointing, she said, and even though the race ended in heartbreak, she said she was just happy to have been a part of it.
“I was taking on full-time skaters and I was thrilled to have been racing with the best in the country,” she said. “Finishing strong would have been great but I can’t do anything about what happens with other skaters. I just wanted to enjoy the experience of being in a final.”
Acorn’s only finish outside the top-10 was in the girls 500-metre, where she finished 14 th. The 500-metre is considered the 100-metre dash of short-track and a strong start is required to do well. It also didn’t help that Acorn had to win three separate repechage races just to get back into the main event.
Acorn said she’s still working on getting off the line faster on the gun.
“Getting off on the gun is still a problem for me,” she said. “That’s something I’m working on but there were skaters who were just quicker than I was. I didn’t so as well as I would have liked and I was a bit upset but it’s a learning experience.”
The 1,000-metre event is Acorn’s bread and butter race and it was the one event she targeted for success, if there was to be some. After being reseeded following the 500-metre event, Acorn found herself straight into the quarter-final – avoiding the repechage altogether – and racing in a heat which included a skater with World Cup experience and another who was on the national development team.
Acorn led the race for five laps but the two national starts took over and started to gap everyone else. Juliette Brindamour, the World Cup skater, set a new Canada Winter Games record time in that race and Acorn said she’s partly responsible for that.
“I’m glad I helped her set the new time with the pace that I set in the early-going,” she said, tongue firmly in cheek.
Acorn moved on to the semifinal thanks to having one of the two fastest non-qualifying times but it wasn’t meant to be as she finished fifth in her semifinal, relegating her to the B final, where she finished second, giving her seventh place overall.
The 3,000-metre points race differs from a regular race in that skaters are placed in a final based on how many points they earned during the solo races. Acorn just missed out on the A final by a mere 275 points, putting her in the B final.
A points race is 27 laps long and is divided into four sections. Each section of the race carries points for a skater with 35 points going to the winner of each section; the point values for the final seven laps of the race are doubled. In her race, Acorn ended up third after the first section, second after the second section, and was first in the third and fourth sections of the race. Add it all up – 136 points total – and Acorn won her final to finish ninth overall.
“If I was in the A final, it would have been much more difficult to own that race like I did the B final,” said Acorn. “There was good racing, amazing skaters, but I was relaxed the whole way through, I was calm and stayed strong throughout the entire race.”
With her fine showing in Red Deer, the focus for Acorn now turns to the future and there are visions of the national women’s team in her line of sight.
She said the first two national-level competitions this year for her – the Canada Cup and Canadian Junior Championships – were tough but she came away with her goals for the rest of the season from those events.
“I had incredible improvement at the Canada Winter Games and it was a good path for me to continue working,” she said. “I would like to be on the national team one day and possibly qualify for the World Junior Championships. I proved to everyone and to myself that I can contend with the best in the country.”