Short Track Speed Skaters Vie for Olympic Berth

Canada’s top short track speed skaters are in Vancouver for the next two weeks, hoping to get the chance to represent their country at next year’s Olympic Winter Games. The Bell Short Track Team Selection event will run from August 9th to the 18th at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, the same venue that will be home to the events of the 2010 Olympic Games next February.

This will likely be the toughest competition of the year for Canada’s short track skaters, as the country can only send 10 representatives – 5 men and 5 women – at the Olympic Games, but many more athletes from the National and Development teams have proven over the last seasons that they are worthy to compete against the best in the world.

Speed Skating Canada (SSC) invited the top 32 skaters from all parts of the country to compete in the Bell Short Track Team Selection. Among them, only 5 women and 4 men will be nominated for Canada’s Olympic Team, as Charles Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) already secured his spot, thanks to his third place finish at last season’s World Championships.

The athletes will take part in five racing days in Vancouver (August 9, 12, 15, 17 and 18), over which they will skate each distance three times. Athletes will be ranked per distance, using their top-2 results. All athletes finishing first overall in a distance should automatically be nominated for the Olympic Team. Overall, 4 women and 3 men will be selected based on their results, and the last position will be filled with a discretionary choice determined by SSC’s High Performance Committee.

Competition will be fierce at the Pacific Coliseum, and all bets are off. “This is an exceptional situation for us to be in”, explained Yves Hamelin, SSC’s Short Track Program Director, and short track team leader for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. “We have so much depth and talent in our team, so many of our athletes have won medals on the international scene over the last few years, that it’s very hard even for me to say who will be nominated for our Olympic Team. At this point, almost any athlete taking part in the selections could make it – that’s the beauty of short track speed skating!”

Among the favorites, on the women side, are Kalyna Roberge (St-Étienne-de-Lauzon, QC), who was a member of Team Canada for the 2006 Olympics, where she helped her relay team win a silver medal and finished 4th in the 500m, and Jessica Gregg (Edmonton, AB), coming off an amazing 08-09 season, winning her first ever individual World Championship medal (bronze in the 500m) and her first World Cup Gold medal (also in the 500m). Also battling for a spot will be veterans Tania Vicent (Laval, QC) hoping to qualify for her fourth and last Olympic Games, Marie-Ève Drolet (Saguenay, QC), who made a great come back to competition last season after seven years off the competition circuit and Amanda Overland (Montreal, QC), sidelined last season due to a hip injury, but with 2006 Olympic experience under her belt.

Young skaters like Valérie Maltais (La Baie, QC) and Marianne St-Gelais (St-Félicien, QC) could also vie for one of the precious positions, both having known outstanding progression over the last few years, culminating in a World Senior Championship participation for Maltais and a World Junior Champion title in the 500m for St-Gelais. Anne Maltais (Québec, QC) and local British Columbia skater Jessica Hewitt (Kamloops, BC) are other skaters to keep an eye on, as they both took part in last year’s World Championships.

On the men side, one of the top contenders had to withdraw from the competition last week. François-Louis Tremblay (Montréal, QC), not fully recovered from an ankle injury suffered in training last spring, is requesting a bye that will be evaluated by the High Performance Committee upon completion of the competition. Over the last number of seasons, Tremblay has proven with countless World Cup and World Championship medals that he was a strong contender to step on the Olympic podium. He is the current World Cup Champion in the 500m, and won a silver in the distance at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games.

With Tremblay and Charles Hamelin not taking part in the competition, Olivier Jean (Lachenaie, QC) is a strong contender. Jean surprised everyone with six World Cup medals in 06-07, his first season as a member of the National Team. He had to sit out the following season due to a serious injury in training that summer, but was fully back last year, and capped off a successful season with his first individual World Championship medal (bronze in the 500m).

François Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC), Charles’ younger brother, Marc-André Monette (Pointe-aux-Trembles, QC), Michael Gilday (Yellowknife, NT), Guillaume Bastille (Rivière-du-Loup, QC), and Rémi Beaulieu (Alma, QC), have all won World Cup medals last year and could also qualify to be nominated to Canada’s Short Track Olympic Team.

This is the last time Canada’s skaters will be at the Pacific Coliseum before the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Competition starts on Sunday, August 9th, at 3:20pm, with the first 1500m and 500m races for both men and women. For the full list of competing athletes, a summary of the selection criteria and the race schedule, visit www.speedskating.ca. Admission is free for the public on all race days, a great chance to see some of the best short track speed skaters in the world in action!