Speed skater Philippe Riopel makes top 10 in 500m at Winter Universiade

Philippe Riopel (Lachenaie, QC), Canada’s top speed skating contender in the 500m at the 24th Universiade in China, raced against a dominant field of Asia’s World Cup athletes to finish tenth overall on the first day of competition.

“Given that we've only been here for four days, I'm really pleased with how it went," said Riopel, 20, who is a CEGEP student studying social science. He finished two 500m races in a combined time of 72.58 seconds. "I was getting a little tired towards the end of the second 500, so to hang on for tenth was good. I think we can be better through the week, but to start with a 10 was good.”

The winner of the event was Korean Olympic bronze medalist Kang Seok Lee with a combined time of 69.82 seconds. China’s Fengtong Yu, who won a gold medal in the 500m at a World Cup event two weeks ago, and Korean Tae Bum Mo finished second and third with combined times of 69.87 and 70.53 seconds.

"I'm very happy for Philippe's result," said Head Coach Gregor Jelonek. "When you look at the strength of the field, particularly the Chinese and Korean skaters that are here, I don't think we could have expected much more from him. He's not a specialist at that distance and I thought he put together two very good races."

Riopel’s international experience includes competing in World Cup competitions in Jan., Nov. and Dec. 2008. His best result was 15th in the 1000m in Changchun, China.

Mykola Makowsky (Regina, SK), who is on Canada’s National Development Team, finished 18th overall with a combined time of 74.46 seconds, Vincent Blouin (Quebec, QC) finished 25th overall with a combined time of 76.67 seconds, while Keith Sulzer (Calgary, AB) posted a two-race time of 77.79 seconds to finish in 27th place.

In women’s competition, Pan-Pacific athletes were again dominant. Korea's Sang Hwa Lee posted the fastest time in both races, winning gold with a combined time of 76.36 seconds. In addition to her win, she lowered the previous Universiade record of 77.06 seconds she set two years ago.

Chinese athletes posted the next three fastest times, with Jing Yu winning silver in a time of 76.89 seconds, and Shuang Zhang winning bronze in 77.30 seconds.

Canada’s best results came from Anastasia Bucsis (Calgary, AB) with an 18th overall finish. Her combined time was 81.98 seconds.

"It was my first international race, so I'm very happy with my finish," said Bucsis, 19, a University of Calgary student. "When you look at the field and see just who you're up against, it can be a little overwhelming. The Koreans and the Chinese sent a number of their World Cup athletes - the field is just so fast, and it was a great thing to be a part of."

Justine L’Heureux (Quebec, QC), also on Canada’s National Development Team, was close behind Bucsis placing 20th overall with a combined time of 82.93 seconds. Shannon Sibold (Calgary, AB), finished 24th overall with a combined time of 87.49 seconds.

Kirsti Lay (Medicine Hat, AB) has been nursing a sore shoulder since arriving in Harbin, and had to withdraw from the field.

Tomorrow the men will race in the 5000m while the women will compete in the 1500m event.

This is the first time Canada has sent a long track speed skating team to compete in the two-week Winter Universiade Games, which includes 12 sports and over 4,000 people, including athletes, coaches, judges and referees, from 45 countries and regions. All athletes are post-secondary students.

Results are updated on the Universiade web site at http://en.harbin2009.org/