Veterans take control at Bell Short track Speed Skating Olympic Trials

One of the toughest aspects at an Olympic trials competition for Tania Vicent of Vercheres, Que., is to put her feelings aside and have her friends and teammates as her main opponents for a few days.

But the 13-year-national team veteran has shown no mercy so far at the Bell Short Track Speed Skating Olympic Trials as she leads the overall standings and the 1,000-metre standings. She is in an excellent position to earn a ticket on the Turin team for the Olympic Winter Games with the final three days of competition set to resume on Friday, Saturday and Sunday after a day’s rest on Thursday.

“These are my friends, people I train with everyday that I’m competing against,” said Vicent, 29, a two-time Olympic bronze medallist (the 1998 and 2002 relay teams). “It’s been very emotional for me. The competition this year has been one of the fiercest ever at an Olympic trials and that’s made it even more difficult.”

The trials which started on September 1, determine the five men and five women named to the short track Olympic team for the Games this February in Turin. The 16 men and 16 women contest each Olympic distance (500, 1,000 and 1,500) three times at the trials. The top skater overall at each distance gets an automatic selection to the team while the other selections are based on the overall standings from the entire meet.

After six of nine races, Vicent is first overall with 3,998 points earning victories in both 1,000 metre races so far. Alanna Kraus of Abbotsford, B.C., in second overall at 3,707 and leads the 500-metre standing as well. Canadian champion Amanda Overland of Kitchener, Ont., is third at 3,677 while Anouk Leblanc-Boucher, the 1,500 leader, is fourth overall at 3,628. Kalyna Roberge of Ste-Etienne-de-Lauzon, Que., is fifth at 3,374 and Melanie Gagnon of Montreal sixth at 2,106.

“I’m not surprised how the competition has unfolded for the women,” said Kraus, an Olympic bronze medallist in 2002. “The top-five for the women right now in Canada is very solid. But the competition is very close, the standings seem to change every day. I just have to be aggressive in every race.”

On the men’s side, Francois-Louis Tremblay of Montreal has been the individual star of the competition. He has won the last two men’s races- Wednesday’s 1,000 and Tuesday’s 500, and has posted at least a top-three finish in all six races.

“It’s been as much as physical as a mental challenge with the meet stretched out over an 11 day period,” said Tremblay, a member of Canada’s 2002 Olympic champion relay squad. “The intensity has really risen over the last couple of days. Early on everyone felt they’ll have a second chance but as those chances start to disappear there’s more desperation. We’re all friends, but we are here to win.”

Tremblay continues to lead the men’s overall standings with 4,964 points and both the 500 and 1,000 metre standings as well. Mathieu Turcotte of Sherbrooke, Que., is second overall at 4,164 and first in the 1,500 standings. Jonathan Guilmette of Montreal is third overall at 3,404, Eric Bedard of Ste-Thecle, Que., fourth at 2,833, Charles Hamelin of Ste-Julie, Que., fifth at 2,803and Quebec’s Mathieu Giroux sixth at 1,981.

The battle for top spot in the individual distances will go down to the wire this weekend. In the men’s 1,500, Turcotte, Guilmette and Tremblay are in the hunt for first while in the 500 and 1,000 Tremblay has some breathing space, but in the short distances there’s always a danger of a fall or disqualification.

“There’s not much room for error in the 500,” said Tremblay. “When you fall, it’s always pretty frustrating. I don’t try to win each race at all costs but rather earn as many points as possible. But I’m always looking for openings.”

Vicent leads comfortably in the 1,000 and is a battle with Leblanc-Boucher, Roberge and Overland in the 1,500 for first spot while Kraus has a stranglehold in the 500 standings.

Competition resumes at the Centre-Georges-Vezina at 8 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The nominated team will be announced shortly after Sunday’s last race.