Short Track Speed Skating Season to Start Next Week

Canadian Short Track speed skaters are ready to jump into the 2008-09 season, starting on Tuesday, September 16, with the Fall World Cup Selection event at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.

This competition will give the top 16 male and female short track speed skaters the opportunity to compete for the first time ever in the facility that will be used for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The team is traveling to Vancouver today and will have a week of training before the 3-day event starts on September 16.

The Fall World Cup Selection will be used to select the 12 athlete team – six male and six female – that will represent Canada at the first four World Cups of the season, including World Cup #2 scheduled for Vancouver on October 24-26, which will serve as the Olympic Test Event. “It’s wonderful to be able to compete on this ice a year and a half before the Olympic Games, and to give our athletes a taste of the facility,” announced Yves Hamelin, Short Track Program Director with Speed Skating Canada. “We have a great partnership with the Pacific National Exhibition and we really appreciate the interest they are taking in our team and in helping us get access to the Olympic venue as much as possible leading up to 2010.”

The top-2 athletes in each of the 500m, 1000m and 1500m will be selected to the World Cup team, for a maximum of 6 athletes of each gender. If 6 different athletes are not selected through the process, the remaining positions will be filled at the discretion of the High Performance committee.

“This will give a chance to our skaters to experience the Olympic venue in a competition setting,” explained Hamelin. “We spent two weeks here this summer, which allowed us to train on this ice, but being here for a competition at this time of year is critical in our preparation for the 2010 Olympics and our Olympic team selections that will be held here in August of 2009."

On the men’s side, positions on World Cup teams are always highly contested, with many athletes able to perform – and win medals – on the international stage. Top contenders are 500m World Silver medalist Charles Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) and brother François (Ste-Julie, QC), former world record holder also in the 500m, François-Louis Tremblay (Montreal, QC), multiple World Cup and World Championship medalist, and Marc-André Monette ( Pointe-aux-Trembles, QC ). Also to watch are Olivier Jean (Lachenaie, QC), who had a breakthrough season in 2006-07 before being sidelined due to an injury last season and Mathieu Giroux, kept out of racing for most of the year also due to injury.

Surprises have happened in the past however, and it would not be surprising to see a younger skater coming through the selection process, having seen Guillaume Bastille (Rivière-du-Loup, QC), Alex Boisvert-Lacroix ( Sherbrooke, QC ) and Michael Gilday (Yellowknife, NT) with their best performances ever last year.

“Our men’s team is very deep, and on a good day, any of our athletes could win a race, so it’s very hard to say who will be skating here during the World Cup in October,” explained Yves Hamelin. “All athletes trained hard this summer, and the race for positions on our World Cup teams is on!”

The women’s competition is also wide-open this season. Two of ’s top female skaters, Kalyna Roberge (St-Étienne-de-Lauzon, QC) and Amanda Overland ( Montreal, QC ) will not be skating due to injuries. Roberge will be able to come back to competition this fall, while Overland will have to wait until the new year to do so. Both athletes will take this time to put emphasis on specific training components to return to their best level.

Roberge has won every distance at both this team selection event and the National Championships in the last two years, so her absence leaves room for new winners.

Tania Vicent ( Laval, QC ) is a strong contender, with years of experience on the international stage. Anne Maltais (Québec, QC) and Jessica Gregg (Edmonton, AB) have also been quite consistent in the last few years and are ready to do well in Vancouver .

Younger athletes or new comers on the team, such as Marianne St-Gelais (St-Félicien, QC), and Marie-Andrée Mendes-Campeau ( Montreal, QC ) were really strong at the World Junior Championships in making finals and have a chance to show what they are made of. Also keep an eye on the young Laurie Marceau from Dolbeau, QC , a rising Junior Star.

Locally, two talented athletes will be on the ice. Jessica Hewitt (Kamloops, CB), member of the development team, and Cory Rasmussen (Prince George, CB), non official World record holder in the 500m, are both ready to try and get a spot on the team.

The event starts at 1pm on September 16 and 17, and 9am on September 18 at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver . The first two World Cup Events of the season will be held in Salt Lake City on October 17-19, then Vancouver , at the Pacific Coliseum, October 24-26. The Vancouver World Cup will give a taste of what is coming to Vancouver in 2010, and the organizing committee will be making an announcement regarding ticket sales this Thursday. World Cups 3 and 4 are scheduled for Beijing, , November 28-30, and Nagano, , December 5-7.

“This is our last full season before the Olympic season, so it’s a crucial time in our preparation,” finished Hamelin. “It’s time to give as much experience as possible to those athletes who are likely to represent in 2010.”