Michael Gilday & Jessica Hewitt come out on top at Short Track National Team Selection

Michael Gilday (Yellowknife, NT) and Jessica Hewitt (Kamloops, BC) finished first at this weekeend’s Short Track National Team Selection event, that concluded today at the Calgary Olympic Oval. Gilday managed to get his name in the books on the way, establishing new Canadian records in both the 1500m and 500m, with times below world records.

The Northwest Territories skater started out strong, winning the first two distances in the program. In the 1500m final, junior athlete Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu (Sherbrooke, QC) started out strong, and led the first 10 laps of the race at world record pace, before getting slightly tired. Gilday took advantage of the situation and cruised to the finish in a time of 2:06.565, shaving more than 4 seconds off the previous Canadian record of 2:10.713 that was standing since 2003. The current world record of 2:10.639 will remain in the books, however, as Gilday’s time cannot be submitted given the nature of the competition. Five of the six skaters in the final were below the old mark, and Marc-André Monette (Pointe-aux-Trembles, QC) won silver, while Liam McFarlane (Medicine Hat, AB) stepped on the third step of the podium.

“It’s cool to have skated below a world record,” said Gilday at the end of the competition Monday evening. “But I’m even more satisfied with my 500m. Not many people were thinking of me as a 500m guy, but I still managed to skate faster than anyone ever has in the distance,” completed the athlete who managed another record in the 500m semi-final the following day. Gilday led that entire race, finishing it in 40.437, below Liam McFarlane’s Canadian record of 40.57 set earlier this year in Calgary. Gilday went on to win yet another final in that distance, while Alex Boisvert-Lacroix (Sherbrooke, QC) took second place and Richard Shoebridge (Cambridge, ON) was third.

With those two first places under his belt, Gilday’s fourth place finish in the 1000m (Rémi Beaulieu of Alma, QC won the distance, followed by McFarlane and Mathieu Richer) and a bronze medal in the 3000m (won by Gélinas-Beaulieu, with Monette second) were enough to give him first place overall. Rémi Beaulieu is second in the overall standings, and Marc-André Monette third.

On the women side, Jessica Hewitt first won the 1500m race, ahead of Montreal skaters Nita Avrith and Andrea Do-Duc. The 500m gold medal went to Valérie Lambert (Sherbrooke, QC), with Do-Duc in second and junior skater Laurie Marceau (Dolbeau-Mistassini, QC) in third.

Hewitt came back strong today with another win, this time in the 1000m. She won the final with a very small margin over Avrith, and Caroline Truchon joined them on the podium. In the last, but most grueling event of the weekend, the 3000m, Avrith, Do-Duc and Marceau took the top positions, but Hewitt’s fifth place was sufficient for her to finish on top of the overall rankings. Nita Avrith and Andrea Do-Duc were respectively second and third.

“I felt really strong today in the 1000m, I raced well and I enjoyed myself even more than the other days,” said Hewitt afterwards. “I hadn’t raced in a competition for a while [since the Olympic Team Selections last August], so it was good to get back into it.”

This competition is important for Canadian skaters as it will help determine which athletes will be members of next year’s National and Development teams. Athletes who qualified for Canada’s Short Track Olympic team did not skate, as they are already pre-qualified for next year’s National Team. The top skaters in the combined rankings between this competition and the Canadian Open Championships scheduled for March 19-21 in Montreal, will join them on the team.