Short Track Medal Harvest Continues in Marquette

Canadians ended their World Cup Season on a high note today, in Marquette, when François Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) added a bronze in the 1000m and the relay teams captured two more medals, gold for the men and bronze for the women, bringing the Canadian harvest to an impressive 7 medals this weekend, one more than the Olympic goal of six.

Hamelin showed that while his brother Charles’ name was on everyone’s lips after his outstanding performance last week in Montreal, therer were two Hamelins, and both were able to make their way to the podium. After flying through his first heat of the day, François went on to finish second of both his quarter and semi final races, ensuring his spot in the final.

Meanwhile, a Chinese skater impeded on Charles in eight of finals, causing a fall of the Canadian skater. He was then advanced to the next round, but suffered a small concussion when hitting the hard mats. After Charles Hamelin qualified for the semi-final, it was decided to take him out of the competition for precautionary measures, and the Ste-Julie skater finishes 8th overall.

On to the A final, François fought hard alongside American Apolo Anton Ohno and Koreans Lee Jung-Su and Sung Si-Bak. It was a close race, and Hamelin took the lead with 5 laps to go, but Ohno passed him back right away, so Hamelin got right behind him. “I was hesitating to make a pass,” he explained. “I was happy to be third, but at the same time, I wanted to go in front, there were so many things going through my mind.” In the last lap, the will to pass took over and Hamelin went for it at the finish, as did one of the Koreans, but Ohno protected his position and took the gold in 1:30.420, Lee gets the silver in 1:30.450 and Hamelin was third (1:30.506).

On the women side, Kalyna Roberge (St-Étienne-de-Lauzon, QC) had the top finish today. A fall in semi-final relegated her to the B final, that she went on to win, for 5th place overall. Jessica Gregg (Edmonton, AB) and Tania Vicent (Laval, QC) finished third of their respective quarter finals, for 10th and 11th positions in the distance.

In the relay, the men’s team captured their first gold medal of the season today, after an exciting race that kept all spectators off their seats. Guillaume Bastille (Rivière-du-Loup, QC), François Hamelin, Olivier Jean (Lachenaie, QC), and François-Louis Tremblay (Montréal, QC) raced for Canada. Teams from Korea, the US and Canada exchanged the lead throughout the race, but Canada finished strong with a time of 6:45.588, almost a full second ahead of the Americans (6:46.420). The Koreans, who had won all of the relay competitions so far this season, had to settle for third place in 6:48.930. The next showdown between these teams should be another most exciting one, come February 2010, and today’s victory will definitely help boost Canada’s confidence.

Roberge, Vicent and Gregg teamed up with Marianne St-Gelais (St-Félicien, QC) for their semi-final race, where they came in second to China while setting a brand new Canadian record of 4:10.461 (the old record was 4:12.443). Vicent was replaced by Valérie Maltais (La Baie, QC) for the final, and the athletes did not hold back, hoping to break the Asian domination of the event. It was a very close race from start to finish, but China once again captured the gold medal in 4:10.785, edging out Korea by 0.001 second and Canada finished third in 4:10.825.

“In the semi-final, we knew we had a really hard race, so we wanted to be aggressive as usual and our plan was to stick to the Chinese at the start, which worked well as we even beat the Canadian record by two seconds,” explained Vicent, the team’s veteran. “In the final, the strategy was similar, and at the end, Kalyna even almost managed to beat them to the finish, we came really close to the gold! It’s amazing for us, because we know we still have so much to work on.”

Overall, Canada won five individual medals in Marquette, and the feat was achieve by five different skaters (François-Louis Tremblay: 500m gold, Kalyna Roberge: 500m silver, Marianne St-Gelais: 500m bronze, Charles Hamelin: 1500m bronze and François Hamelin: 1000m bronze), showing the depth of the Olympic short track team. And this happened at an Olympic qualification event, where all of the top skaters of the world were present, those same skaters who will vie for Olympic medals in a few months. With three more months of training before the Olympics, it will definitely be a team to watch for from February 13 to 27 on the ice of the Pacific Coliseum, in Vancouver.

Team Canada will head home to Montreal tomorrow, and members from the media are invited to greet them as their chartered flight lands at Skyservice at 1:15pm. An official invitation with all details will be sent Monday morning.