Schussler & Blais-Dufour are Canadian champions

Schussler and Blais-Dufour are Canadian champions at the single distances championships

– The reigning champions in the women's 3,000 metres and men's 1,500 metres were unseated today from their top spots as Brittany Schussler and Guillaume Blais-Dufour won gold today on the first day of the 2013 Canadian Single Distances Championships (long track). The championships continue through to Sunday at the Olympic Oval in Calgary. Friday's races will feature with the men's 1,000- and 5,000-metre distances, and 1,500 metres for the women. (full results)

Skating in the second last pair with fellow Winnipegger, Cindy Klassen, Schussler took first place in a time of four minutes and 9.51 seconds. Klassen's time of 4:10.02 placed her third for the bronze medal. Christine Nesbitt, the Canadian 3,000-metre champion in 2011 and 2012 and currently ranked number one, was 0.28 seconds behind Schussler to claim the silver medal in a time of 4:09.79.

"The race was hard, that's a definite. The three-K (3,000 metres) is always a hard one," said the 27-year-old national team veteran. "Being in the second last pair, I actually thought the ice was going to be fast today. I went for it and barely held on to it. When I was done I didn't think it was a great time. I thought it was a good time.

"To come out with win is a big confidence booster," added Schussler. "It's been a rough year so far and I really needed that win, and it's a good feeling. I know I'm capable of a lot more, and so are the other girls."

Barely two months after converting back to long track form the national short track development team, Blais-Dufour won his first Canadian title winning the 1,500 metres in a time of one minute and 45.92 seconds. The native of Sherbrooke, Que., edged the 2012 Canadian champion, Mathieu Giroux, by 14 one hundredths of a second. Giroux, of Pointe-aux-Trembles, Que., earned the silver medal in a time of 1:46.06. Lucas Makowsky of Regina was the bronze medallist for a second year in a row, finishing in a time of 1:46.32.

"It's a complete surprise. I knew I had a lot of speed et that I was in good shape (in the race)," said Blais-Dufour, who is coached by Gregor Jelonek at the Gaétan-Boucher National Centre in Quebec City.

"I'm coming from another, short track, which offers quite a different perspective from what we're used to in long track," noted Blais-Dufour, who did represent Canada at the 2009 World Junior Championships. "I didn't know where I stood with the other skaters. It was my first test of the year. I am very happy how it worked out."

Denny Morrison, last year's silver medallist in the 1,500 metres and currently top ranked in Canada, is not competing in the championships. He broke the fibula bone in his left leg on Dec. 22 while cross-country skiing.

The Canadian championships, which are running concurrently with the second leg of the Canada Cup series and qualifiers for the World Juniors Championships next month in Italy, offers skaters the opportunity to be selected for the Essent ISU sprint World Cup in Calgary on Saturday, Jan. 19 and Sunday, Jan. 20, the ISU World Sprint Championships held on Jan. 26 and 27 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the three winter World Cups and final.

Athletes can also earn spots on the Canadian team competing at the Continental regional qualifier, featuring Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, in Salt Lake City on Jan. 12 and 13. This qualifier assists in selecting the Canadian team for the World All-Round Championships in Hamar, Norway, on Feb. 15 and 16.

On Saturday, the men take on the 10,000 metres and the women's races will highlight the 1,000 and 5,000 metres. On the last day of competition, Sunday, the men and women will compete in two 500-metre races and mass start.