Good Start for Canadian Skaters at Montreal Short Track World Cup

Canadian skaters had a good first day at the Montreal Short Track World Cup, the first stop of the 2010-11 World Cup Circuit. All of the Canadian women were able to qualify directly for the semi or quarter final rounds to be held on Saturday and Sunday. On the men side, Guillaume Bastille (Rivière-du-Loup, QC) and François Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) will have to skate in tomorrow’s 1500m and 1000m repechage respectively to get a chance to join their teammates in the final rounds, while Rémi Beaulieu (Alma, QC) was disqualified following a penalty in his first 1000m race.

First up was the 1000m, in which Marianne St-Gelais (St-Félicien, QC) easily dominated both her races. Marie-Ève Drolet (Laterrière, QC) and Valérie Lambert (Sherbrooke, QC) also both easily won their first round. Lambert went on to finish 2nd of her heat, while Drolet finished third of hers, but her fast time allowed her to qualify, along with her teammates, for tomorrow’s quarter final.

In the 1500m, Valérie Maltais (La Baie, QC) took the lead of her race with six laps to go and kept it, ensuring she would be of the semi-finals tomorrow. Jessica Hewitt (Kamloops, BC) and Marie-Andrée Mendes-Campeau (Montréal, QC) were third of their respective heat, so they will join Maltais in tomorrow’s semi-finals.

In the afternoon, the women continued with strong performances. The 500m was a formality, Marianne St-Gelais easily flying through her two rounds, Maltais and Lambert each winning one race and finishing second of the other. The Canadians raced just as well in the 1500m. Marie-Ève Drolet had the fastest time of the day, while Hewitt and Mendes-Campeau both had strong races and finished second, ensuring their spot in Sunday’s semi-finals.

On the men side, Beaulieu was the first in action in the 1000m, and he finished first, but he was awarded a penalty for impeding, which leads to an automatic disqualification. It was a tough call for the referees, who are implementing for the first time a new rule on passes. In the past, a skater attempting an inside pass was responsible to ensure he had enough room for a clean pass. However as of this year, once athletes are shoulder to shoulder, the outside athlete also has to ensure he does not close the door to the skater passing. This is a fairly big adjustment for both athletes and referees, and it was obvious while watching races today, as a lot of athletes finding themselves on the outside during a pass were hesitant as to how to react.

Michael Gilday (Yellowknife, NT) was up next, and he easily won his two heats with good racing strategies, ensuring his spot in tomorrow’s quarter final. François Hamelin finished second of his first race, and was on his way to a second place finish in his next heat, but a slight loss of balance at the finish line allowed a Russian skater to steal the 2nd place from him, and he will now have to get up early tomorrow to race in the repechage in order to qualify for the afternoon final sessions.

In the 1500m, Charles Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) and François-Louis Tremblay (Boucherville, QC) both battled with an American skater for the first place. Hamelin managed to finish first of his heat, and Tremblay second. Guillaume Bastille will however have to get up along with François Hamelin to race in tomorrow’s repechage if he wants to join his teammates in the afternoon session, as he was third of his heat.

Michael Gilday, usually a longer distance specialist, had the fastest time in the 500m. He had solid performances today, winning all of his races. “I’m very happy with my day,” he said afterwards. “My objective was to get through in both distances, which I did. I chose to race the 500m this weekend to gain experience in the distance. I know I can do good, I just have to work on having fast starts and keeping a good speed, and that’s exactly what I did.”

François-Louis Tremblay also won both his races. Charles Hamelin, Olympic gold medalist in the distance, easily made it passed the first round, but the new rule on passes played against him in his second race. While American Jeff Simon was trying to pass on the inside with three laps to go, Hamelin hesitated a moment and lost his speed, allowing a French athlete to make his way to the front. Hamelin tried to make up for the mistake, but ran out of time and finished third. Thanks to a fast heat, Hamelin will still be of the quarter finals Sunday.

Bastille then won his 1500m race, while Beaulieu and François Hamelin finished 2nd in theirs, so all three go straight to the semi-finals. Beaulieu, Gilday and the Hamelin brothers later teamed up to race in the relay, which was pretty much a formality. They won their race ahead of the Russians and will be of tomorrow’s semi-finals.

Tomorrow, action starts at 9am at the Maurice-Richard Arena in Montreal, with the 1000m and 1500m repechage. François Hamelin and Guillaume Bastille will then be in action. In the afternoon, starting at 1:45pm, the rest of the Canadian skaters will show up for the quarter, semi and final rounds in these distances as well as the semi-final of the relay.