Olivier Jean‘s switch from short track to long track has proven fruitful. On Sunday, Jean captured bronze in the mass start at the World Single Distances Championships in Gangneung, South Korea.
It was a great breakthrough for a skater who had placed 14th and 13th at the first two World Cups in November, his only previous mass start races this season, and is in just his second season of competing in long track speed skating.
“It’s only sixteen months ago I tried clap skates for the first time,” Jean said. “I was always interested in long track, but I did not like the time trial format. So when I heard there was going to be a mass start I thought: that’s for me. Coming from short track eight laps already was very long for me, but I trained in marathon skating in the Netherlands for four months, so I was confident with my level of fitness.”
In the mass start, a 16 lap race of the 400m oval with all competitors on the ice at one time, there are three intermediary sprints after the fourth, eighth and 12th laps. Jean placed third in the first two before winning the third. But the medals are decided solely on the final sprint to the finish. Jean crossed the line in third place, giving him the bronze medal behind American Joey Mantia and Frenchman Alexis Contin.
As a short track speed skater, Jean had been a member of the 5000m relay that won gold at Vancouver 2010. He was also the world champion of the 500m in 2012. But in 2015 he decided to give the bigger oval a try and competed in his first World Cup events that fall. The mass start is a logical event for Jean, who is used to the chaos that can come when many skaters are on the ice at the same time.
This was Canada’s third medal of the championships, which are doubling as the test event of the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic venue. On Saturday, Ivanie Blondin won bronze in the 5000m while Vincent De Haitre won silver in the 1000m. Blondin had been hoping for more hardware in the mass start, which she entered as the reigning world champion, but finished in 10th place when she had to slow down to avoid a skater who had fallen in front of her. De Haitre came close to another medal in the 1500m on Sunday, finishing fourth and off the podium by 0.29 of a second.