Team Canada for PyeongChang 2018 started to take form on Wednesday as the short track speed skating team was revealed.
Ten athletes have been provisionally nominated by Speed Skating Canada, led by four-time Olympic medallist Charles Hamelin who is set to compete at his fourth Olympic Winter Games, giving him a chance to become Canada’s most decorated Olympian.
“We want to be the best team at the Olympics and win some medals,” Hamelin said at the conclusion of the recent national selection trials. “The Charles Hamelin from the 2006 Games would have never believed that the Charles Hamelin from the future would make it all the way to the 2018 Games, so I consider this an exceptional accomplishment and I will savour this experience alongside the guys and girls on the Canadian team.”
A mixture of Olympic rookies and veterans will be joining him on the men’s team in South Korea.
Samuel Girard was the top-ranked male skater at the national selection trials where he won seven of the nine races. Four years ago he was merely a spectator at the trials but in the last two seasons has emerged as one of the global elite, standing on the world championship podium in individual events in 2016 and 2017.
Charle Cournoyer had one of Canada’s most surprising results at Sochi 2014 where he won bronze in the 500m on the final day of the short track competition. He’s had his share of ups and downs since then, coming back from two shoulder surgeries and a broken foot in the post-Olympic season to win multiple World Cup medals.
Forced to withdraw from the final day of competition at the trials, François Hamelin was granted a bye to join his older brother on his third Olympic team. He was a member of the gold medal-winning relay team at Vancouver 2010.
Up-and-comer Pascal Dion, who survived a horrendous accident in 2014 when he was cut in the back by the blades of a competitor, rounds out the squad as a discretionary pick by Speed Skating Canada. He made his world championship debut this past season, which also saw him earn his first individual World Cup medal. That success happened to come during the PyeongChang 2018 test event of the Gangneung Ice Arena.
“The un-fun part is over, the one where you train all summer to fight against each other,” Cournoyer said of the highly competitive trials. “Now the fun part starts because we’re going to work together.”
For the women’s team, three-time Olympic silver medallist Marianne St-Gelais was also granted an injury bye to her third Olympic Winter Games, having missed the trials due to concussion symptoms sustained in a fall during training on the eve of the competition. She was a quadruple silver medallist at the 2017 World Championships.
In her absence, Kim Boutin was the star of the trials, finishing first in the overall standings on the strength of wins in eight of the nine races. She was also Canada’s top female skater at the 2015 World Championships where she made her debut in the biggest annual global competition. This past season she earned her first individual World Cup victory.
She’ll be one of three Olympic rookies on the women’s side, joined by Kasandra Bradette and Jamie Macdonald. Since missing essentially all of the 2012-13 season because of a back injury, Bradette has become a reliable competitor for Canada, highlighted by her bronze medal in the 1000m at the 2016 World Championships. Hailing from northern British Columbia, Macdonald is the lone athlete from outside Quebec on the team. Yet to make her world championship debut, she has stood on several World Cup podiums.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet it seems, but I’ve faced so many challenges over the years that this feels like a great accomplishment… which makes me emotional just mentioning it!,” said Bradette, “I’ve now accomplished what I thought I would never accomplish over all those years in speed skating. For a long time, the Olympics were just a distant dream for me. But these last four years, I’ve realized that I belonged there and that I needed to show it.”
Rounding out the women’s team is two-time Olympian Valérie Maltais, who was a discretionary selection after withdrawing midway through the trials with her own concussion symptoms following a fall during one of the races. She won silver alongside St-Gelais in the 3000m relay at Sochi 2014.
These ten skaters will compete at the four World Cup stops this fall that will serve as Olympic qualification events. The first of those begins on September 28 in Budapest, Hungary with the final stop in Seoul, South Korea in mid-November. The goal is to achieve rankings that will qualify the maximum number of Olympic berths, which would include both the men’s and women’s relay teams. Canada has never not qualified for both relays and in fact has won a medal in all seven women’s 3000m relays and all but two of the men’s 5000m relays since short track was officially added to the Olympic program.
In those seven Games, dating back to Albertville 1992, Canadian short track speed skaters have won 28 medals. That’s the country’s second-best total in any Winter Olympic sport, behind only the 35 medals won in long track speed skating since 1932.
The Olympic short track speed skating team will be confirmed sometime after the final Olympic qualification rankings are published by the International Skating Union in December.