Short Track Skaters Back in Action for Fall World Cup Selections

Canada’s top short track speed skaters were back in competition mode, this morning, as the first event of the 2010-11 season started in Calgary. Charles Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC), Marianne St-Gelais (St-Félicien, QC), François-Louis Tremblay (Boucherville, QC) and Valérie Maltais (La Baie, QC) each won a distance today, as the best 16 male and female speed skaters in the country are hoping to qualify for the Fall World Cup events.

Over the course of the weekend, athletes will race each distance (500m, 1000m and 1500m) twice. The athletes with the most points combined in their top two distances will automatically qualify to race the World Cups, and Speed Skating Canada’s (SSC) High Performance Short Track Committee will select the rest of the team, for a total of six men and six women.

While all the members of Canada’s men’s Olympic Team are competing this weekend, the field is wide open on the women side, with only two Olympians skating here (St-Gelais and Maltais). Jessica Gregg, injured, is sitting out the competition, while Tania Vicent retired after last season and Kalyna Roberge is taking a year off to focus on her studies.

The first event of the day was the 1500m, and no one was surprised to see the Olympic medalist super-couple of St-Gelais and Hamelin win their respective finals. Both athletes have been consistent over the last season and they were strong in each of their race today.

The women’s final was first, and national team members dominated it, St-Gelais taking the honours in 2:28.944, closely followed by Maltais (2:29.050), Marie-Ève Drolet (Laterrière, QC, 2:29.080) and Jessica Hewitt (Kamloops, BC, 2:29.398). Laurie Marceau (Dolbeau-Mistassini, QC), Valérie Lambert (Sherbrooke, QC) and Caroline Truchon (Chicoutimi, QC), all members of Canada’s development team, respectively finished 5th, 6th and 7th.

Michael Gilday leading the pack in the men's 1500m final, Photo: Arno Hoogveld
The men went for an action packed final. With six members of the national team on the start line, no one wanted to be left behind. After many passes, François Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) took the lead and forced the group to accelerate with four laps to go, closely followed by older brother Charles. Two laps later, Charles took the lead with a beautiful inside pass and he cruised to the finish line in 2:15.872. François Hamelin was second in 2:16.082, Michael Gilday (Yellowknife, NT) took the third position in 2:16.190. Olivier Jean (Lachenaie, QC), Guillaume Bastille (Rivière-du-Loup, QC) and François-Louis Tremblay were the other skaters in the final, and they crossed the finish line in that order.

Similar faces were at the start line for the 500m final, with the Hamelin brothers and Tremblay, joined by Ontario skater Dustin Miller. Tremblay, known for having one of

Charles Hamelin tries to pass François-Louis Tremblay at the 500m finish line, Photo: Arno Hoogveld
the fastest starts in the world, took off in front of the pack, with the Hamelin brothers and Miller chasing him for the majority of the race. With one lap to go, François Hamelin tried to pass but ended up in the mats. It looked like Charles Hamelin would be able to pass Tremblay at the finish, but he was a bit short, finishing in 41.396, after Tremblay (41.383). Miller was third in 41.838.

Maltais, Lambert and Marceau were back on the ice for the 500m final, along with Andréa Do-Duc (Montréal, QC). While Lambert led most of the race, a smart inside pass by Maltais with a lap and a half to go allowed her to cruise to the finish in 43.706. Lambert followed closely (43.838), Do-Duc was third (44.121) and Marceau fourth (44.259).

It was an exciting start to the 2010-11 short track speed skating season at the Calgary Olympic Oval. Tomorrow, skaters will compete in the 1000m and another round of 1500m, hoping to gain as many points as possible in order to qualify for the Fall World Cup events. The first two World Cup stops are planned for Montreal (October 22-24) and Québec City (October 29-31).