Mark Nielsen & Sarah Smith win 500 metres at World Cup speed skating trials

Mark Nielsen of Calgary and Sarah Smith of Medicine Hat, Alta., earned their tickets to next month’s World Cup events with victories in Wednesday’s 500 metre races at the long track speed skating World Cup sprint trials.

In the men’s 500, Nielsen, on the mend from a knee injury, clocked first in the two races for a combined time of one minute and 11.810 seconds. Sterling Sobczak of Winnipeg was second in 1:12.570 and Brock Miron of Calgary third in 1:12.660.

"I was very careful with the knee in the first 50 metres of both races," said Nielsen, 25, second in the 100-metre World Cup standings last season. "That probably explains why my starts weren’t as good as usual. But I let it go a bit more afterwards. Still I didn’t feel totally comfortable out there."

Nielsen, Sobczak and Miron grabbed the three remaining spots for Canada in the 500 for the World Cups next month in Nagano, Japan and Harbin, China. World champion Jeremy Wotherspoon of Red Deer, Alta., and James Monson of Winnipeg had pre-qualified. Wotherspoon and Monson didn’t race Wednesday.

Mike Ireland of Winnipeg gave up his World Cup spot due to injury.

In the women’s 500, Smith took first spot with a combined time of 1:19.990 earning the victory in the second race. Danielle Wotherspoon of Red Deer, Alta., was second at 1:20.990 and Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., third at 1:22.140.

"It’s a big relief to get the spot," said Smith, 25, who raced at two World Cup events last year. "I was pretty happy with my times considering how early in the season it is. Last year was a learning experience for me and I want to pick it up this season."

Smith and Wotherspoon grabbed the two available World Cup berths in the event joining Krisy Myers of Lloydminster, Sask., Kim Weger of Regina and Shannon Rempel of Winnipeg. Weger won Wednesday’s first 500 but didn’t race the second 500.

Competition ends Thursday with the men’s and women’s 1,000. Action starts at 1p.m. local time at the Olympic Oval.