Top contenders show consistency at the Bell Short Track Team Selection

The suspense is still in the air of the Pacific Coliseum after the second day of the Bell Short Track Team Selection, with many athletes holding on to a chance to qualify for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Athletes were racing on 500m and 1000m today, and four different athletes came out victorious.

In the women’s 500m, four of Sunday’s finalists were back on the ice. Jessica Gregg (Edmonton, AB), Marianne St-Gelais (St-Félicien, QC), Tania Vicent (Laval, QC), and Kalyna Roberge (St-Étienne de Lauzon, QC) were on the start line today. A win from Roberge would have secured her a spot on the 2010 team as she won the first race on the distance, but faith would have it otherwise.

Gregg’s fast start gave her the edge she needed as no one was able to catch up with her, and she crossed the finish line first in 43.663. St-Gelais, second out of the first corner, tried to catch up, but had to settle for second place in 43.686. Vicent started behind, but managed to pass Roberge with just over one lap to go to secure her third place finish in 43.840.

This mixes things up in the rankings, and the first place overall is still up for grabs, as both Roberge and Gregg have one first-place finish, while St-Gelais has a second and fourth place under her belt and Vicent has two third positions in the distance. The last 500m race, scheduled for Monday, August 17th, will determine the winner. Each athletes’ top two finishes will be used to determine the rankings.

Liam McFalrane showed great speed in his 500m win on Wednesday. Photo: Jeff Bough
On the men’s side, a fall of Sunday’s first and second ranked skaters, Olivier Jean (Lachenaie, QC) and François Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) also gives many skaters a shot for the coveted overall first place. Known for his start, one of the fastest in the world, Liam McFarlane (Medicine Hat, AB) sprinted to the finish line in 41.821. Marc-André Monette (Pointe-aux-Trembles, QC), a specialist of longer distances, took advantage of his teammates fall to slide to second place in 42.943. Jean touched the ground when Hamelin fell and brought him down with him, but he bounced right back on his feet and crossed the line in 47,337, ahead of Hamelin who went full out in the mats.

“I saw myself as the winner”, said a happy McFarlane after his final. “I’ve been known for my 500m. I always had great starts, but then I struggle in the end, but I’ve been working hard on that the last few months, and it payed off today”, completed the Development Team athlete who won his first ever National Selection event today.

Familiar faces lined up for the women’s 1000m final. Roberge and Vicent were taking part in their fourth final in as many events so far, showing great consistency in their racing. Gregg and Amanda Overland (Montreal, QC) were lined up for their 3rd final, and Ivanie Blondin (Ottawa, ON) was the fifth skater on the line.

Roberge decided to race in the front this time, and she led the pack for 9 fast-paced laps, ensuring no one would be able to make a move on her. She won the race in 1:30.282. Vicent (1:30.356), Gregg (1:30.359), Overland (1:31.598) and Blondin (1:36.468) followed, never getting a chance to switch position as all their energies went into keeping the pace.

“I’m a girl who can recuperate quickly, which is an advantage when you have to race three 500m and three 1000m in such a short time”, explained Roberge, who was also the winner of Sunday’s 500m race.

The men’s 1000m final was a completely different story. Many of the athletes on the start line had a few finals under their belts too, like Jean and Hamelin who have consistantly qualified for the finals. Monette made it three in four and Guillaume Bastille (Rivière-du-Loup, QC) was skating his second final so far.

Bastille was first off the first corner, followed closely by Jean, Hamelin and Monette. There was a bit of pushing in the second corner between Jean and Bastille, but no harm done. With three laps to go, Jean squeezed in front and held on to that until the finish (1:26.178), followed by Hamelin (1:26.248). It was a close race for third place, but a small mishap of Bastille in the last straight away allowed Monette to get it (1:26.426) and Bastille had to settle for fourth place (1:26.509).

Athletes now get two days to train and refocus for their next races. They will be back in action on Saturday, August 16th, for the second of three 1000m and 1500m races. If Jean or Roberge win the 1000m Saturday, or if Vicent or Michael Gilday (Yellowknife, NT) win the 1500m, they would automatically be nominated for the Olympic team. Races will start at 2:55pm on Saturday at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.