Change has been good for Yellowknife native and short track speed skater Michael Gilday. Since leaving his Calgary home base last year and moving to Montreal, the 25-year-old has flourished and seen his career reach new heights.
Most recently, Gilday captured his first Canadian Open Short Track Championships at Montreal’s Maurice-Richard Arena edging out defending national and Olympic champion Charles Hamelin, of Sainte-Julie, QC, by 16 points. In the last eight years, Hamelin had won the overall titles at Nationals in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012 (he did not compete in 2006 or 2010 because of the World Championship conflict).
“Consistency pays in an overall competition when it’s cumulative points, and I was really consistent,” said Gilday. “That was the biggest thing. I was in all the finals, which is awesome and where I wanted to be, but I also want to be pushing for the wins a little harder. Charles (Hamelin), obviously he’s got eight national titles, or something like that, I’ll gladly take one.”
Gilday credits fellow training mate Hamelin and the rest of the Montreal-based team for pushing him to his limits at every single practice, citing the level of talent is too high for anyone to slack off.
“It’s more aggressive here than in Calgary,” said Gilday “We have a senior group of guys and every day is a competition within training and you don’t want to be dropped any day. You have to bring your A game every day. The style of training here is more focused on intensity, which is different for me from doing a lot more volume and low intensity stuff. It took a bit of adapting for me to make it work.”
Going from Yellowknife, to Calgary, to Montreal took some getting use to for Gilday. He notes it took him a little longer to get use to his surroundings and becoming comfortable with the location where he is living.
It will surely be a lesson he takes with him to Russia this weekend when he gets set to compete in the 1000m,1500m and relay at the World Cup at the “Iceberg” Skating Palace in Sochi for an Olympic Test Event before the 2014 Winter Games.
The team will be using the weekend not just to test themselves out physically against the rest of the world, but to learn more about the lay of the land.
“It’s about starting to gain comfort in your surroundings in Sochi,” said Gilday. “It’s always nice going into a rink knowing what type of ice conditions you’re dealing with, where your change room is and how far away you’re staying from the rink. Not to mention the food. Yes it’s a World Cup, but it’s also a reconnaissance mission to create a situation where we’re as comfortable as we can be at the Games.”
Comfort will be a big thing for Canadian Olympians when they step on to the field of play in Sochi. The entire team has been keeping track of the construction projects happening half a world away in hopes it will be able to visualize the environment a little more.
“We’ve seen mock ups of the coastal cluster and it looks pretty grand,” said Gilday. “I can only imagine what it will be like to walk around there. It will be really impressive. I know that I am really pumped and so is the rest of the team to be in that environment.”
Individually, Gilday has captured two silver medals this year at World Cups and captured two bronze medals with the relay team. Gilday admits he and his teammates have an unspoken goal of wanting and believing they can win gold in the relay on any given day.
Gilday also wants to keep improving on his individual times and using all the knowledge he has gained over the last three years to become a more tactical skater. More importantly, the Sochi hopeful is channeling the disappointment of missing the Vancouver 2010 team by one spot to fuel him for the next year.
“(Missing the Games) is a feeling in which you don’t want to be in that position twice,” said Gilday. “We’re a group here with a lot of Olympic and World Championship medals and (my teammates) push me every day. I can only imagine how fast the next year will go by. It’s a little nerve wracking, but at the same time the work we’ve put in the last three years is just going to set up that base for next year and pay off when it comes.”
– George Fadel