Canadians Win Bronze at World Team Championships

Canadian short track speed skaters concluded the 2010-11 season by winning a bronze medal, today, at the World Team Championships in Warsaw, Poland. Meanwhile, the women’s team finished fourth. In both cases, it all came down to the final event, the relay, in which Canadians finished fourth of their respective race.

The World Team Championships is the final event of the season in short track speed skating. Only eight countries are invited to take part, with five skaters each. The countries are split into two brackets of four, and four athletes per country compete over rounds of 500m and 1000m, then two athletes per nation race the 3000m, followed by a relay. Each placing gives points that are added for each country. For the individual events, winners get 5 points, second place finishers get 3, two points are awarded for a third place and just one for the last person to cross the finish line. If a skater is disqualified, no points are awarded. These points are doubled for the relay. After the qualifying round, the top country of each bracket automatically moves to the A Final, while the 2nd and 3rd placing country in each bracket will have to compete to decide the other two finalists.

Saturday, Canada’s women’s team easily won its bracket. Marianne St-Gelais (St-Félicien, QC), Marie-Ève Drolet (Laterrière, QC), Jessica Hewitt (Kamloops, BC), Valérie Maltais (La Baie, QC) and Caroline Truchon (Chicoutimi, QC) finished the competition with 42 points, just three points ahead of their closest rivals, the Americans, who had 39, but enough to confirm their spot in the A Final.

On the men side, Olympic medalists Charles and François Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) and Olivier Jean (Lachenaie, QC) teamed up with Michael Gilday (Yellowknife, NT) and Guillaume Blais-Dufour (Québec, QC). They cumulated 42 points, coming short of the first place finishers from Korea (46 points). The men went on to the repechage, where they dominated the races and qualified for the final with 45 points, 13 more than their closest competitors from Japan.

Sunday, the women had to compete against Korea, China and the United States. Maltais, Hewitt and St-Gelais started out strong by taking second place of each of their 1000m, while Drolet finished fourth. St-Gelais went on to win her 500m race, while Drolet took second place, Truchon third and Hewitt received a penalty. Drolet and Maltais were the two Canadian representatives in the 3000m, and they respectively concluded the race in 6th and 8th place. Despite a third place in the relay, Team Korea became World Champion with 35 points. China was just behind after winning the relay, cumulating a total of 34 points. The Americans finished second in the relay, edging out Canada for the bronze with 29 points, and Canada’s last place in the relay proved costly, relegating them to fourth place (22 points).

“Our objective yesterday was to qualify straight for the A final,” explained Valérie Maltais. “The relay was going to make all the difference, and we won it with a big lead. Today, things went well, with four strong teams in final. In the relay, starting positions made a big difference, we were fourth on the line and with the way the race went, it was hard to plan for a pass, and we ended up fourth.”

The men’s A Final featured Korea, China, Japan and Canada. As usual, the Canadians dominated the 500m races, with the Hamelin brothers and Jean winning three of the four races on schedule. Blais-Dufour was however disqualified in the last race, costing precious points to the Canadians. Another disqualification in the 1000m, that of Michael Gilday, didn’t help either. Charles Hamelin was however able to win another race there, while François Hamelin finished second and Olivier Jean, fourth. The Koreans dominated the 3000m, but Charles Hamelin was able to get two points for Canada, thanks to his third place finish. François Hamelin was seventh.

Before the relay, it was a tight race led by the Koreans (32 points). Team Canada was sitting in second place (26 points) and China was third (25 points), leaving Japan far behind with 14 points. All was possible in the relay, but at the start of the race, something was wrong with Olivier Jean’s blades, and there was no time to fix it. The Canadians had to do the best they could given the circumstances, but with only three skaters racing the relay, they had to settle for fourth place.

Their second place in the relay confirmed the victory for the Koreans, who took the title for a second year in a row thanks to their 38 points. With their win in the relay, team China edged out Canada for the silver medal (35 points). Canada won bronze with 28 points.

“Our guys were really strong entering the competition today,” explained coach Derrick Campbell. “There was a strong, competitive format with four closely matched teams who showed up ready to race today. A couple of disqualifications were costly, but we managed to stay in second place going into the relay, we had a chance to win. Something happened with Olivier’s equipment, and we had to race with three guys, so there’s nothing we could have done at that point unfortunately.”

This puts an end to the international short track speed skating season. “Our objective this year was to be competitive in all distances,” analyzed Canada’s women’s team coach, Sébastien Cros. “We know we are there in the 500m, but it’s harder in other distances. That’s what we focused on this year, and it worked really well in World Cups, which is positive. We’re a bit disappointed with the last two competitions of the season, the results aren’t what we expected, but it’s good that it happens now, it gives us extra motivation. We know we are going in the right direction, we just have a lot of hard work to do still!”

The men’s season proved quite successful as well. “In general, the season went well, our guys were at their best when needed,” concluded Canadian coach Derrick Campbell. “At the World Championships, each of our three guys qualified for the finals. We won four medals, including gold in the relay, which was a big goal of ours. Our focus was to build endurance and improve racing skills through the season, and we can say we improved in those areas.”

This is the last year that the World Team Championships is being held. As of next year, the international short track speed skating season will conclude with the presentation of the World Short Track Championships, in which skaters compete individually. Athletes will now enjoy a month of holidays before they return to training in their respective training centers early May.