Winnipeg’s Mike Ireland makes giant step in comeback bid at speed skating World Cup trials

Former world champion Mike Ireland of Winnipeg, who missed all of last season with a serious concussion, took first place in the men’s 500-metre Friday to qualify for this fall’s World Cup competitions at the long track speed skating Canadian team trials.

Ireland clocked 1:10.31 over two 500 metre races. His time in the first race was 35.15 and in the second 35.16. Mark Nielsen of Calgary was second in 1:11.27and Vincent Labrie of Ste-Foy, Que., third in 1:11.41.

“I had a race last week but this was my first big test and I’m pleasantly surprised with the time and my performance,” said Ireland, 31, a two-time Olympian who won the world sprint title in 2001. “I had some good laps and good speed but my starts are a bit rusty.”

In September 2004, Ireland suffered his injury when he crashed while mountain biking in California. He was off the ice until this September and has had his share of tough days as he deals with headaches and dizziness.

“It was nice to get back to racing, I was really unsure whether I would continue,” said Ireland. “But I knew I had to get back now to have a chance to go to the Olympics. I have had a few setbacks since I started training again, it feels a lot like cramming for an exam. I still wake up in the mornings dizzy but once I start warming up I feel better.”

Ireland hasn’t decided whether he’ll race the 1,000 metre on Saturday.

Jeremy Wotherspoon of Red Deer, Alta., and Brock Miron of Calgary, both of whom did not race Friday and Nielsen were pre-qualified for the World Cups in the 500 while Ireland and Labrie took the two available spots.

In the women’s 500, Shannon Rempel of Winnipeg took first spot with a combined two-run time of 1:17.19. Kerry Simpson of Melville, Sask., was second in 1:18.56 and Brittany Schussler of Winnipeg third in 1:20.54.

Rempel, Krisy Myers of Lloydminster, Sask., and Kim Weger of Regina were pre-qualified in the 500 for the World Cups while Simpson and Schussler took the two available spots.

On Saturday, it’s the 1,000-metre qualifiers.