Mike Ireland & Shannon Rempel first victors at Canada Post Single Distance Championships & Olympic trials in long track speed skating

Winnipeg long track speed skaters Mike Ireland and Shannon Rempel posted victories in Tuesday’s 500 metre races to kick-off the Canada Post Single Distance Championships and Olympic trials.

In the men’s 500, Ireland tied with Jeremy Wotherspoon of Red Deer, Alta., in the combined time over two races at 1:09.36 to share the Canadian title. In fact both skaters clocked the same time in both races at 34.71 in the first 500 and 34.65 in the second. Brock Miron of Calgary was third with a combined time of 1:09.54.

Ireland missed all of last season with a serious concussion after he crashed on his mountain bike in training in September 2004. He was off the ice until this September and has battled headaches and dizziness this season. Most recently a groin injury has affected his performances as well.

‘’Considering the injuries and the nerves those were solid decent times today,’’ said Ireland, 31, the world sprint champion in 2001. ‘’I felt great going in but there were worries with the groin injury so in the first race I had to take bit off even though I had a lot of energy in the legs. I pushed harder in the second race and still I could have gone quicker but I felt I didn’t need to.’’

In the women’s 500, Rempel took first spot with Kim Weger of Regina second and Kerry Simpson of Melville, Sask., third.

‘’I was pretty worried going in after some slow training times last week,’’ said Rempel, 21. ‘’The times today were solid but it certainly wasn’t my best. I was nervous for the first race because I wanted to post a decent time. I focused well on technical things and didn’t panic.’’

With their wins Ireland and Rempel appear to be in excellent position to add their names to the nomination list for the Olympic team.

Canada can send 20 athletes (10 men and 10 women) in long track speed skating to the Olympic Games and so far nine of those spots (five men and four women) have been secured by skaters who have pre-qualified based on performances at last year’s world championships and this season’s World Cups.

Wotherspoon had pre-qualified in the 500.

Competition continues Wednesday with the men’s and women’s 1,500 metres starting at 2 p.m. local time at the Olympic Oval.

The long track team is scheduled to be officially nominated on Wednesday January 4 at a news conference at the Olympic Oval.