Lots of action on Day 1 of the Bell Short Track Team Selection

Canada’s best short track speed skaters did not hold back on anything on the first day of the Bell Short Track Team Selection, the event that will determine which ones will get to skate at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Races were full of actions and athletes fought to the end, hoping to get precious points in the 1500m and 500m.

Tania Vicent (Laval, QC) was first to secure a victory, in the women’s 1500m. After cruising through her semi-final race, Vicent’s experience came in handy in the final. Valérie Maltais (La Baie, QC) was first off the line, followed by Nita Avrith (Montreal, QC), Amanda Overland (Montreal, QC), Kalyna Roberge (St-Étienne-de-Lauzon, QC) and Marianne St-Gelais (St-Félicien, QC). Vicent spent the first half of the race in the back, observing, not rushing anything. With a little over 5 laps to go, and with Roberge and Maltais in the front trying to create a gap with the other skaters, Vicent came on the outside and took the 2nd position, then crossed the finish line 1st in 2:32.836. Roberge was second to cross the line, but got disqualified for charging earlier in the race and has to settle for 6th place. Overland got 2nd in 2:33.093, then came Maltais (2:33.168), St-Gelais (2:33.195) and Avrith (2:33.244).

“Today was a really good day for me,” said Tania Vicent with a smile at the end of her racing day. “I made the two finals, which I’m really happy about. In the 1500m final, I was patient, I was planning on making my move later than I actually did, but I knew at that point I had to, if I didn’t want the girls to escape.”

The most experience athlete on the Canadian team also skated well in the 500m, finishing her first two rounds in second place behind Kalyna Roberge. In the final, Valérie Maltais, Jessica Gregg (Edmonton, AB) and Marianne St-Gelais were alongside Vicent and Roberge. Gregg, known for her very fast start, was first off the start, closely followed by Roberge and Vicent. Roberge and Gregg switched positions a couple of times but Roberge managed the victory in 44.064. Gregg had to settle for second place in 44.091 and Vicent was third (44.363). The young St-Gelais and Maltais were fourth and fifth in 44.475 and 45.285 respectively.

“In the 1500m, I think I was too focused,” explained Roberge. “I was looking at my objective, but nothing else. I felt stuck, I had to let go. After my race, I had to refocus. In the 500m, it was a new Kalyna on the line, I took that race like any Canadian Selection race, not like an Olympic one. I reminded myself it was the overall points that mattered, not just one race. It’s funny, the same thing happened to me four years ago in the Olympic Trials, I was disqualified in the 1500m and then came back to win the 500m.”

On the men side, Michael Gilday (Yellowknife, NT) took the honours of the 1500m race, with a final full of action. Guillaume Bastille (Rivière-du-Loup, QC) took first place off the start line, followed by Marc-André Monette (Pointe-aux-Trembles, QC) and Gilday. Monette took the lead moments later, but was passed by François Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC). All the men were trying to position themselves in the front, with the exception of Liam McFarlane (Medicine Hat, AB) and Olivier Jean (Lachenaie, QC) who stayed behind at the beginning. Gilday finished in the lead in 2:15.340, Bastille just behind (2:15.400). Jean made a move on the outside in the last lap, but was a little too late and he had to settle for third position in 2:15.644. Hamelin, Monette and McFarlane followed in that order.

“My 1500m race was awesome, to go out and win off the bat is great,” said Gilday. “It’s my first win at a Canadian selection, so I was excited, but then I went right back to refocusing, recovering for the next race.”

The 500m men’s final was another exciting one, with on the line Jean, McFarlane, Hamelin and Rémi Beaulieu (Alma, QC). McFarlane had a very fast start, but was then caught up by Jean and Hamelin. Jean passed inside with two laps to go, and Hamelin followed moments later, cruising to the finish line 1st and 2nd respectively (41.748 and 41.829). Beaulieu also managed to pass McFarlane in the last lap and finished in 42.018, with McFarlane clocking in 42.050.

This put an end to the first of five race days at the Pacific Coliseum. While today’s results are a great motivation for the winners, nothing is set. Athletes will get two more chances to race on those distances, and their top two results out of three will be used to determine the final ranking per distance. “Everyone is nervous in the Olympic Selection. Coming in and skating well on the first day is great for the confidence, you know you can do it, physically and mentally,” concluded Michael Gilday.

Athletes will now get two days of training before competition resumes on Wednesday, August 12th, with 1000m and 500m races starting at 2:20pm at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.