Canadian Short Trackers Secure 500m Olympic Berths

Canadian short track speed skaters confirmed today they would be able to enter a maximum of three men and three women skaters in the 500m at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. With all its skaters qualifying for eight of final rounds to be held on Saturday at the Marquette ISU Short Track World Cup, Canada is now sure to get maximum quotas in the distance.

Once again, Canadian skaters proved their strenght in the 500m. Charles Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC), François-Louis Tremblay (Montréal, QC) and Olivier Jean (Lachenaie, QC) each won all three of their rounds, easily qualifying for Saturday’s eight of finals. Once again, Hamelin and Tremblay skated the fastest two times of the day.

It was a similar scenario on the women side, with Marianne St-Gelais (St-Félicien, QC), Jessica Gregg (Edmonton, AB) and Kalyna Roberge (St-Étienne-de-Lauzon, QC). The first two won both of their heats, and Roberge played conservatively, not trying any risky maneuver in her two tough heats, settling for second place both times, enough to move to the next round each time.

“In each round, our athletes were able to express themselves as we hoped,” said Yves Hamelin, the satisfied Team Leader after the day of races. “They will all be racing on Saturday, and all of our 500m positions for 2010 are now pretty much secured, so that’s one thing we can stop thinking about.”

Canadians had a scare in the men’s 1500m when Guillaume Bastille (Rivière-du-Loup, QC) failed to make it to the quarter finals after a fall in the last corner of his second race of the day, forcing him to settle for 48th place overall in the distance. Bastille was 15th in the 1500m last week at the Montreal Short Track World Cup. Combined results from both events will determine how many spots each country gets for the Olympics, with the top-36 skaters earning berths for their country. Bastille still has a chancee to get that spot for Canada, but it will be a close call. It will be confirmed later this weekend whether Canada will get two or three skaters in this distance at the Olympics.

Charles Hamelin will be the only man representing Canada in the 1500m semi-final Saturday. “Charles had a great progression troughout the day, with three strong race, securing his spot in the semi-finals,” explained Team Leader Yves Hamelin. “Unfortunately, Olivier Jean was disqualified in his quarter final. He was running a good race, was in control. He tried an outside pass, and there was a contact between him and the Chinese athlete, which caused for both to lose their balance. Olivier managed to stay on his feet and finish second of his race, but he got disqualified for impeding on the Chinese skater in his pass,” continued Hamelin. Despite his disqualification, Jean winds up 26th in the distance, which is enough to secure a second berth for Canada in Vancouver.

On the women side, Kalyna Roberge, Tania Vicent (Laval, QC) and Valérie Maltais (La Baie, QC) all managed to qualify for Saturday’s 1500m semi-finals. Maltais hit a few road bumps along the way, falling in her first race but still managing to hang on to third place as three other skaters also fell. The Canadian skater was then advanced from her quarter final in a very eventful race in which she was charged by an Austrian athlete.

“Tania skated extremely well today,” said Yves Hamelin. “She had an exceptional race in her quarter final, probably one of the best races of her life. She was patient, came to the front from the outside with six laps to go and stayed there, controling the pace. There was a pass later on, but Tania managed to finish a strong second.” Roberge also finished second of her quarter final race, after winning the previous round. With three skaters in the semi-finals, Canada is well positioned in the distance and the country’s positions for the Olympics are not threatened.

Tomorrow will be another long day in Marquette, as skaters will compete in qualification rounds of the 1000m and relay races, hoping to qualify for Sunday’s final rounds and secure more spots for Canada for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.