Canada’s men dominant in 500m at Beijing World Cup

Canadian men were strong today at the Beijing World Cup, the third stop of the 2008-09 circuit. Charles Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) and François-Louis Tremblay (Montreal, QC) dominated the 500m to take gold and silver respectively, and Olivier Jean (Lachenaie, QC) added to the harvest with a silver of his own in the 1500m.

In the 500m, Canada’s hopes were high with Hamelin, Tremblay and François Hamelin (Ste-Julie, QC) in the semi-finals. With some of the top skaters out of the way, Korean skaters Kwak Yoong-Gy and Lee Ho-Suk having been stopped in Friday’s heats, the door was wide opened for the Canadians to show what they were made of. The two Hamelin brothers were in the same semi-final, and started out front, but François fell, and was disqualified for impeding on Chinese Li Ye. The young Hamelin finished 7th overall.

The final was a 5 men race, dominated from start to finish by Charles Hamelin and Tremblay, who finished just about a second before the bronze medalist Wang Hong Yang of China. “He was up front for four laps,” said Hamelin of his team-mate, “it was a fast race, but I was able to pass him near the finish to take the gold. This medal was much easier than the gold I had in Vancouver (in the 1000m), François-Louis and I really dominated throughout the day, going into the final, we knew the gold medal would be for one of us.”

Tremblay agreed with his team-mate. “Sure, it would have been nice to get the gold, but it’s not the colour of the medal that matters, but the quality of our skating,” he said. “Charles and I, today, we dominated, we were quite ahead in the final, and it was really fast times, so I’m definitely satisfied.”

On the women side, things weren’t that easy, and no Canadian skater was able to make it past the quarter finals. Jessica Gregg (Edmonton, AB) was disqualified in her heat, while Valérie Lambert (Sherbrooke, QC) fell and Anne Maltais (Québec, QC) crossed the finish line just 0,07 seconds after 2nd place. So overall, it was 11th place for Maltais, 15th for Lambert and 16th for Gregg.

Olivier Jean had a victory of his own in the 1500m, when he took the silver medal, his first this year on the World Cup circuit. Jean had a break through season in 2006-07, winning numerous medals on the circuit, but an accident in training in the Fall of 07 left him sidelined all of last year. Today’s medal tasted sweet for the Lachenaie athlete, who finished a mere 0,005 seconds behind Sung Si-Bak who took gold.

“I’m extremely happy with my silver medal. I had a great race, I was leading for the last six laps in front of three Koreans, I was going quite fast so they were not able to pass me. I made a small mistake in the end and was passed at the finish, but I’m still satisfied,” said Jean. “The 1500m is my favorite distance, I really want to win one. I was nervous for the first two World Cups of the season, and I focused too much on results, and things didn’t go all that well. Here, I really focused on skating well, so I was a lot more relaxed today on the ice, and it worked well!”

Michael Gilday (Yellowknife, NT) also took part in the A final, but he was stuck behind the Korean wall and had to settle for 6th place. Rookie Richard Shoebridge (Cambridge, ON), had another strong showing today, and he skated in the B final, for 11th place overall.

On the women side, only two Canadians were in the semi-finals of the 1500m, as Jessica Hewitt (Kamloops, CB) was disqualified yesterday. Annik Plamondon (Longueuil, QC) and Kalyna Roberge (St-Étienne-de-Lauzon, QC) were both 5th of their semi-final heat, and took 13th and 14th place.

“It still went well, I’m missing a bit of punch as opposed to the others, but it’s good for me to be competing, it helps me get to the next level,” said Roberge, who is skating her first World Cup of the season in Beijing after an injury kept her away from competition for the first few months of the season. “Right now, there are some muscles that I’m not working on in strength training, so I’m a little behind when it comes to reaction and speed, but those come back really quick, so I’m not worried, I’ll be back in my original shape soon.”

Both relay teams – Roberge, Maltais, Gregg and Hewitt for the women; the two Hamelins, Tremblay and Gilday for the men – were able to qualify for tomorrow’s finals. The skaters will also be in medal contention for another 500m race as well as the 1000m.