Four Short Track Medals in Marquette

The last Short Track World Cup is proving fruitful for Canada, with a harvest of four medals today, in Marquette, Michigan. Charles Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC), first won bronze in the 1500m, before Canadians won half of the medals available in the 500m, with François-Louis Tremblay (Montréal, QC), Kalyna Roberge (St-Étienne-de-Lauzon, QC) and Marianne St-Gelais (St-Félicien, QC), respectively taking gold, silver and bronze.

All Canadian athletes in action today showed consistency, finishing in the top-8 of their respective events. On the women side, Roberge, St-Gelais and Jessica Gregg (Edmonton, AB) all skated below the old 500m Canadian record (that belonged to Gregg in 43.351). Roberge is the new record holder, with a time of 43.267 achieved in semi-final.

All three did great in the distance today. In semi-final, Gregg and Roberge wound up in the same heat, along with Chinese Wang Meng and Korean Lee Eun-Byul. Meng won the race, followed by Roberge, and Gregg, third, had to settle for the B Final. Second position in that race gave Gregg 7th place in the distance.

There were five skaters in the final, as Marianne St-Gelais had tied Korean Cho Ha-Ri for second place in her semi-final, a rare situation in speed skating as times go to the thousandth of second. Meng, Roberge and Katherine Reutter of the United States completed the group lined up for the final. As usual, Meng took off fast, and powerful starts allowed Roberge and St-Gelais to be second and third off the first corner. The two skaters created a gap with the girls behind them, and tried to chase Meng to the finish, but the Chinese completed her sweep of this year’s 500m races when she crossed the line in 42.961. Roberge was second in 43.339 and St-Gelais third (43.373).

“We had a good time in the 500m,” laughed St-Gelais at the end of the day. “In the final, I was fifth on the start line, I didn’t put pressure on myself, I wanted to have a good start to get out of the action and I figured I would see what happened then. It worked well after all, Kalyna and I fought against Wang Meng for medals. With the training in the next months, I think we’ll be able to surprise her at the Games!”

In the overall World Cup Rankings on the distance, Canadian women showed great depth, as Roberge takes second place, behind Wang Meng, while St-Gelais is 4th and Gregg 5th. All three skaters achieved podium results at least once in four World Cups (a silver for Gregg, two bronze for St-Gelais and two silver and one bronze for Roberge).

Earlier in the day, Roberge skated in the 1500m, along with Valérie Maltais (La Baie, QC) and Tania Vicent (Laval, QC). Maltais and Roberge respectively took 5th and 6th place of the final, a hard race in which Chinese Zhou Yang and Liu Qiuhong respectively finished first and second, in 2:22.700 and 2:22.870. Lee Eun-Byul finished third in 2:22.919, followed by another Chinese, Sun LinLin (2:23.530), Maltais (2:24.217) and Roberge (2:26.844).

“Our strategy was not to let the three Chinese skaters take the front positions, so we had to attack constantly during the race, which worked well,” explained Roberge. “We had a good race, but in the end, we died a bit and weren’t able to keep up and fight for medals. The 1500m is really tough physically, and we haven’t worked much on that yet, so we’re really happy with what we did.” Vicent took second place of the B Final, for 8th overall.

On the men side, after Charles Hamelin last week, François-Louis Tremblay took the 500m gold medal. And the skaters seemed to be flying, today, as eight of them completed the race under 41.051 seconds, the old World record held by Sung Si-Bak. The Korean himself managed to skate the fastest time, with a 40.651 in semi-final, but Tremblay was holding on the record for two rounds before that.

Tremblay still had energy for the final, and he’s the one who took the honours, winning the race, a fairly slow one compared to the rest of the heats today, in 42.437. Silver goes to French skater Thibaut Fauconnet (43.397) and bronze went to Sung. The other skater in the final, Liang Wenhao, was disqualified.

“In the final, I didn’t want to take the lead,” explained Tremblay after winning his first gold medal of the season. “I knew the Korean was just as fast as me today and I figured if I went to the front, he could just relax behind and try to pass me at the finish. But at the start, it looked like the Korean didn’t want to take the lead either, so I went to the front, but with a slow pace. This allowed for passes and eventually some falls, but I managed to stay out of it and I reacted well, when the Chinese was in front, I was able to pass him and cruise to the finish. I really wanted a win here, at the last World Cup before the Games, to help build my confidence, to prove that I could do it, so it’s great to have done it today!”

Olivier Jean (Lachenaie, QC) finished third of a very tough semi-final race. He went on to take the second place in the B Final, for 6th overall. Hamelin had some trouble with his left blade in the same semi-final, and he didn’t want to risk anything, to avoid potential injury (the boards behind the mats are really hard in Marquette), which explains his fifth place. He was not able to move to the final and has to settle for 8th place. Thanks to two gold medal performances in the distance achieved in Montreal and Seoul, the Ste-Julie skater is still crowned 500m World Cup Champion. With today’s gold, Tremblay made his way to the second position of the World Cup ranking.

In the 1500m, Hamelin was the lone skater for Canada today, and he had a good showing, with a win in his semi-final. The final was a very eventful race with many passes and hits, according to the Canadian. “I spent a lot of energy in the beginning, so at the end, my legs were somewhat gone. I’m also starting to feel tired from the last weeks of racing,” he explained. “I still managed to finish third, which is really satisfying today given the race I had. I fought hard for my position, and I’m really proud of it! ”

Tomorrow, skaters will be back for one last day of World Cup action this season, as they will compete for medals in the 1000m and relay.