Although it may be a few months away, the buzz for PyeongChang 2018 is growing inside Maurice Richard Arena in Montreal, where Speed Skating Canada’s short track selection trials are being held August 12-20.
Canada’s top skaters – 16 men and 16 women – have been invited to compete against one another for a chance to wear the maple leaf come February in South Korea. Only five athletes of each gender will be selected to be part of the provisional Olympic team.
Headlining the trials will be veterans Marianne St-Gelais and Charles Hamelin, who are looking ahead to what will likely be their final Olympic Games. With impressive careers under their belts, they’re both happy that this particular chapter of their Olympic journey is coming to an end.
“Honestly, I feel good because the Olympic selections is really not a fun competition,” said St-Gelais, who took home four silver medals from the 2017 World Championships in March. “When I retire, I’m not going to say ‘I did Olympic trials, I liked it’ no.”
“Trials are never pleasant,” echoed Hamelin. “I skate against the 16 guys that I train with all the time, they’re my friends, so it’s always a bit heartbreaking.”
Although it’s hard to imagine an Olympic team without them, that doesn’t stop them from feeling the pressure and they’re certainly not taking the competition for granted.
“For me, to allow myself to keep preparing for PyeongChang, I have no choice but to tell myself that I am part of the team and think about what it means, what do we need to work on to be ready for Games,” said St-Gelais. “I want as many points as possible and I want to finish in the top three at the end of the selection. After all, it’s my best chance to make the three distances.”
“Yes I want to win, but at the same time I know I have my place on the team no matter what happens. To see who will place in the top five, who will fall, who will not have the performances they were looking for, it has an impact on you,” Hamelin explained. “And I have François [Hamelin’ brother] who is with me. I am able to do my races and manage my stress, but when I see that François is in trouble, my stress increases for him and it affects my concentration. My focus gets in the wrong place.”
One of Hamelin’s main competitors is expected to be Samuel Girard, who has had an interesting career so far. Flashback to four years ago, the man who’s taken home four world championship medals in the last two years wasn’t even invited to the trials to select the team for Sochi 2014. In fact, he spent his time at that event as a volunteer.
“I was in the stands doing security and watching the trials. That was my first trials experience,” he told Olympic.ca.
From the stands, he saw current teammate Charle Cournoyer go into those trials as an under-the-radar athlete who shocked the world when he made the team and took home a bronze in the 500m in Sochi.
“Four years ago, I was just the underdog, I had to perform, I had to be at my top to perhaps have the chance to get on the team,” said Cournoyer. “So the pressure now is a bit different. I have to perform well, that’s for sure, but the pressure is less on that level, because I have already proved myself and have more experience.”
Joining St-Gelais on the women’s start line will be 2010 and 2014 Olympian Valérie Maltais, who was a silver medallist in the 3000m relay in Sochi and at last year’s worlds.
Also keep an eye on Kim Boutin and Kasandra Bradette, who were invited to the pre-Sochi trials, but finished well back in the rankings. At the time, Boutin was still a junior competitor but has since stood on multiple World Cup podiums.
“I am still a small ball of energy that continues to gain experience but I think the big difference between me now and me three years ago is that I was not aware of my abilities back then,” said Boutin. “Now I know I have the ability to achieve what I want, then my confidence level has really improved over the years.”
Meanwhile two-time world championship medallist Bradette is happy to be fully healthy this time around, after having missed all of the season before the last Olympic trials with a back injury.
“When I came back, I had one thing in mind and it was the Games,” said Bradette. “Every year I worked to be a better athlete and learned from my mistakes. It has not been three easy years. I have always learned the hard way and I think that is what makes me finally ready to apply my learning in recent years.”
At the trials, all athletes will skate the 500m, 1000m, and 1500m three times, earning points for their placement in each of the nine races. An overall ranking will be based on each skater’s best two of three races in one distance and best two of three in a second distance, counting a total of four races.
By the end of trials, there will be three men and three women qualified to the provisional Olympic team. Following further analysis, four more athletes will also be named, bringing the total to five men and five women.
Those skaters will then compete in four World Cup events this fall to officially secure Canada’s Olympic short track qualification. The first stop is in Budapest, Hungary from September 28 to October 1 with the last stop in Seoul, South Korea in mid-November. If Canada qualifies a full team, including both relays, the 10 skaters will become the Olympic short track team.
Check out the complete list of the skaters vying to represent Canada at the upcoming Olympic Games:
Camille De Serres-Rainville
To keep up to date with live results from trials, head over to Speed Skating Canada’s twitter page for the latest news.