Three Bronze Medals for Canada at Sofia Short Track World Cup

Canada’s short track speed skaters did not disappoint in Sofia, today, capturing three bronze medals at the fifth stop of the World Cup Circuit. Charles Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) was the first, taking his medal in the men’s 1500m race. Kalyna Roberge (St-Étienne-de-Lauzon, QC) and François-Louis Tremblay) followed moments later by finishing third of their respective 1000m final.

In a very busy 8-men final, Hamelin finished third in 2:12.709, very close behind two Korean skaters, Lee Ho-Suk (2:12.439) and Sung Si-Bak (2:12.650). It is Hamelin’s 8th individual medal on the World Cup circuit this year, on a possible total of 9 so far.

“I had a great day”, said Hamelin at the end of the day. “In the final, we were 8 skaters, which is a bit particular. I didn’t want to be stuck behind so I started in the front and led the first 9 laps. I was surprised by a pass that I didn’t see coming. This year, I feel really good, I know I’m strong and it’s a good thing in the lead up to 2010. To step on the podium as often shows that I can keep the same fitness level all season.”

Marc-André Monette (Pointe-aux-Trembles, QC) was the only other Canadian in the distance, as teammate Guillaume Bastille (Rivière-du-Loup, QC) was disqualified in the preliminaries yesterday. Monette was disqualified in semi-final, finishing 15th.

Roberge followed suit in the 1000m. It was a first individual World Cup medal this season for the young athlete who was sidelined at the beginning of the season because of an injury. It was a very close race between Roberge, American Kimberly Derrick and two Chinese skaters, Wang Meng and Liu Quihong. Wang raced to gold in 1:30.510, followed by her teammate in 1:30.561 and Roberge crossed the finish line 0.036 seconds later for bronze.

“I’m happy with my medal. Technically and strategically, it’s going better”, explained Roberge. “The Chinese had the advantage as they were two in the final, they were able to play together if you want. I’m more satisfied with my first round, my goal is to learn for the [Olympic] Games, in my first round, it was fast, but I still managed to pass on the outside with three laps to go and win the race. That’s what I wanted to do again in the final, it was my only chance against the two Chinese, but it didn’t work. When I tried it I hit the skater, so I lost my speed, and I wasn’t able to pass at the finish.”

Jessica Gregg (Edmonton, AB), a 500m specialist, finished 2nd in the B final for 6th place, while Anne Maltais (Québec, QC) was stopped in the final of the repêchage earlier in the day for the 17th position.

All Canadian men made their way to the semi-final rounds in the 1000m and eventually finished in the top-5, but François Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) was stopped when teammate Olivier Jean (Lachenaie, QC) and Korean skater Lee Jung-Su finished ahead of him. Hamelin went on to win the B final for 5th place.

Korean skaters dominated the final, with Kwak Yoon-Gy (1:25.212) and Lee (1:25.259) taking gold and silver, relegating Tremblay (1:26.001) to the bronze medal and Jean (1:26.280) to the 4th place.

In the last individual distance of the day, the women’s 1500m, Marie-Ève Drolet (Saguenay, QC), returning to competition after a 6 year-break, was the top Canadian when she finished 2nd of the B final for 8th place total. World Cup rookie Laurie Marceau (Dolbeau, QC) was 13th and Jessica Hewitt (Kamloops, BC) 18th.

In the relay semi-finals both Canadian teams won their heats to qualify for tomorrow’s final. The women – Gregg, Hewitt, Roberge et Maltais – finished ahead of Japan despite a fall in the first few laps while the men (Bastille, Charles Hamelin, Monette and Tremblay) took a lead of over 8 seconds on their closest opponents, the German team.

Competition ends tomorrow in Sofia, with Marceau and Hewitt first on the ice as they try to qualify through the repechage in the 1000m. The afternoon will see final rounds in the 1000m and 500m, followed by the relay finals.