Canadians skate well under school childern’s encouragements at Québec Short Track World Cup

After a successful weekend at the Korean Air ISU Short Track World Cup in Montreal last weekend, Canadian skaters had a promising day, today, to launch the second stop of the 2010-11 World Cup Circuit. Maxime Fortin (Rivière-du-Loup, QC) started his World Cup career on a good note by qualifying for the quarter finals of both distances he raced today, as did his teammates Valérie Maltais (La Baie, QC), Marianne St-Gelais (St-Félicien, QC), Jessica Hewitt (Kamloops, BC), Marie-Andrée Mendes-Campeau (Montréal, QC), Charles and François Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) and Michael Gilday (Yellowknife, NT).

Athletes from all over the world got a taste of Québec City’s love for sports this morning, as they raced under loud cheering of over 2,000 school children. “It’s really neat to have such an atmosphere on a qualification day,” said double Olympic gold medalist Charles Hamelin. “Marianne was the first skater to race for us today, and we just couldn’t believe how loud the kids were, it almost sounded like in Vancouver!”

All Canadians started off well by qualifying in their 1500m heats. Marie-Ève Drolet (Laterrière, QC) was first to secure her spot in Saturday’s semi-finals when she finished first of her race. Valérie Maltais followed suit in the next race, crossing the finish line in second place behind European champion Katerina Novotna. Last but not least, Marie-Andrée Mendes-Campeau led for the majority of her race before watching Olympic champion Zhou Yang take the lead. Mendes-Campeau was able to stick to her second position to ensure her spot in the semi-final.

“It was a good race for me,” said the young Canadian skater. When asked how it felt to follow the Olympic champion so closely, she smiled and admitted it was definitely a boost for her confidence.

On the men side, Michael Gilday was first in action for Team Canada. He raced just as well as he did last weekend in Montreal, where he captured silver in the 1000m, and won his first race of the day without too much difficulty. Charles Hamelin was next up. After battling for the lead with a Deutch skater, he went to the front with two laps to go and never looked back, crossing the line first. Guillaume Bastille (Rivière-du-Loup, QC), current leader of the distance in World Cup rankings, after winning a bronze and a gold last weekend, raced smoothly and stuck to his second position until the end.

In the first 1000m, Hewitt finished second of both her races, and St-Gelais won the first before finishing second of the next round. Both athletes therefore secured their spot in tomorrow’s quarter final round. Valérie Lambert (Sherbrooke, QC) was eliminated after finishing fourth of her first race, and she will have to go through the repechage Saturday morning in order to qualify for the afternoon final rounds.

François-Louis Tremblay (Montréal, QC) will also be up early tomorrow, since a fall in his second 1000m race kept him from an automatic qualification. In the first World Cup race of his career, Maxime Fortin took second place. He went on to win the next heat, as did teammate François Hamelin, and both athletes will be of tomorrow’s quarter finals.

After a well deserved lunch break, skaters were back on the ice for qualifications in the 500m and Sunday’s 1000m. The three Canadian men racing the 500m dominated all their races and achieved the three fastest times of the day. François Hamelin was the fastest (41.856), followed by Tremblay (41.925) and Gilday (42.047).

Without surprise, last week’s gold medalist and World Cup leader Marianne St-Gelais also won both her heats and posted the fastest time of the day. Valérie Lambert, who won her first career individual World Cup medal last week, won her first race and finished third of the next round, but her time was fast enough to ensure her qualification for the quarter final. Marie-Ève Drolet was not that lucky, falling as she was attempting a pass with just over one lap to go. She will be skating in the repechage Sunday morning.

Hewitt, Mendes-Campeau and Maltais all had strong races in the second 1000m event of the day, and all three qualified for Sunday’s quarter final. Things were looking good for the men as well. Charles Hamelin won both his races and Maxime Fortin was second both times. Guillaume Bastille was on his way to qualify when he lost balance in a corner and fell, which will force him to join Drolet in Sunday’s repechage.

The last race of the day was the relay, and the Canadian Team, made of the Hamelin brothers, Gilday and Fortin, easily qualified, winning their qualification race ahead of France. Tomorrow, François-Louis Tremblay and Valérie Lambert will be the first Canadians to race in the 1000m repechage, starting at 9:15am at the Pavillon de la Jeunesse in Québec City. The rest of Team Canada will join them at 1:30pm for quarter, semi and final races in the 1000m and 1500m, as well as the relay semi-finals.