Canada’s short track speed skating team poised for success in post-Hamelin era
When Jordan Pierre-Gilles showed up at the start line for Canada in the men’s 5,000 meter relay at the Beijing Olympics in February, the moment – even beyond skating for his first Olympic medal in his first Olympics – was not lost on him.
The last short track speed skating event of the Olympics in February was also the last Olympic competition for Canadian legend Charles Hamelin, who was aiming for a fourth career gold medal.
« We were confident and I think we were actually really hungry because most of us haven’t had any medals at the Games so far, » Pierre-Gilles told CBC Sports recently. « It was more confidence than pressure. »
Dubois was the only exception, finishing with a bronze in the men’s 1500m and silver in the men’s 500m earlier in the competition. Among the women, Kim Boutin, 27, won her own bronze medal in the 500m.
Canada’s short track season kicks off Friday with the Canadian Short Track Championships in Quebec City, before the first international competition of the year October 28-30 in Montreal with the first of six World Cup events. This event will be broadcast live on CBCSports.ca, CBC Gem and the free CBC Sports app.
Hamelin had very few chances left in his illustrious 20-year career on the national circuit.
At his fifth Olympics, Hamelin was in danger of returning empty-handed for the first time. He won silver at Turin 2006, two golds at Vancouver 2010, gold at Sochi 2014 and a bronze in the men’s 5000m at PyeongChang 2018.
Third place in 2018 brought mixed emotions to Hamelin and Dion.
« I think in 2018 we were a bit disappointed, but I feel like we were just unhappy, » Dion said. « Sat [Girard] touched in the last two laps and I think that’s why we lost the gold.
“But all the guys were happy with the performance on the ice, we were just a little sad with the result. We knew we worked well as a team.
A clean start
There would be no mistake on the part of the Canadian team in 2022.
After holding third place for the first half of the race, Pierre-Gilles took the first step, taking the inside track to pass the Russian Olympic Committee team, immediately after a push from Hamelin just before four minutes into the race.
WATCH | Hamelin’s last golden moment:
Shortly after, Dubois and Dion teamed up to take advantage of a botched trade from the South Korean team, jumping to first place. It wasn’t until 12 laps from the end that the methodical pace picked up, with Dion fending off an overtaking attempt and quickly shifting into high gear to turn the more methodical pace into a sprint to the finish.
« It’s a feeling and you have to have the team spirit and the communication to understand what the other guys on the team are doing versus what you are doing, » Dion said picking up the pace. « You don’t talk on the ice, but you have to observe each skater and see what they are trying to do.
“With three rallies to go, we still wanted to be slow, because we knew the Koreans and the other teams would fight at the end. So we tried to be almost as slow as possible. But to stay ahead with two rallies to go, we did everything and all the other guys followed when I picked up the pace. »
With that teamwork at the forefront, Hamelin was golden again, alongside a group of young skaters looking to maintain that standard in the future.
Pass the torch
With Hamelin retiring, the title of “senior statesman” of the Canadian short track team passes to Dion, now 28 and coming off the best season of his career. He is ranked second in the world behind Chinese skater Ren Ziwei, who won the men’s 1000m gold medal in Beijing.
The Montreal native has delivered for Canada all season, earning top honors on the World Cup circuit in the men’s 1000m with two silver and two bronze in five races.
WATCH | Dion wraps up a wonderful season:
With skaters like Dubois, Laoun and Pierre-Gilles – who set personal bests in the 500m and 1000m disciplines in Beijing, as well as four 5000m medals in the 2021-22 season – it’s a hard core of male skaters who should play an even bigger role in the young team.
« In the group, I have a different position, that’s for sure, » Pierre-Gilles said of his role as a veteran frontman. « I have more experience. I’ve been through some things and won Olympic gold.
“But for me — and for my goals and aspirations — nothing has changed. It’s more for the other younger skaters who weren’t there when [Hamelin] was there last year, my status and image is different for them. But for me, it doesn’t change much. »
WATCH | Pierre-Gilles relives gold:
Alphonse Ouimette, 26, completes the men’s team alongside a 21-year-old trio made up of Nicolas Perreault, Jérome Courtemanche and William Dandjinou.
A natural successor to Hamelin in the men’s relay teams would be Dandjinou, of Sherbrooke, Que., who has been named Canada’s replacement in Beijing.
The future starts now for female skaters
Canada’s women’s team, meanwhile, has its own medal threats, led by 22-year-old Courtney Sarault.
Since dominating the junior circuit, Sarault has won five individual distance medals at the world championships and 12 on the World Cup circuit, although she is not satisfied with that success.
« Being more consistent would probably be my goal for this season, » Sarault said.
Sarault was only able to compete in one international event in 2021 due to COVID restrictions, but she made the most of it. She finished second twice (1,500m, 3,000m) and third once (1,000m) for second place overall in the competition between top-ranked skater Suzanne Schulting of the Netherlands and the legendary Italian skater Arianna Fontana, who has 11 Olympic medals to her name. , most recently a gold medal in the 500m and a silver in the 1,500m in Beijing.
WATCH | Sarault adds a 3rd medal at the world championships:
Sarault has also played a major role in the women’s and mixed relays, winning 12 more medals on the World Championship and World Cup circuits over the past five years. Two of those medals were silvers who skated alongside Hamelin in the mixed 2000m relay.
« When I entered a mixed relay and was skating with Sam [Girard] and Charles [Hamelin]I was like ‘okay, that’s pretty cool,' » said Sarault, who left his hometown of Moncton, New Brunswick, to join the Canadian national team in Montreal in 2018. « And also Kim [Boutin]… We had more ties, and she’s still someone I look up to because she has more experience with her years in the sport. »
And then there’s 18-year-old Florence Brunelle, who has three World Cup relay medals to her name and competed in her first Olympics in Beijing, helping Canada to fourth in the women’s 3,000m relay and sixth in the mixed 2,000m. .
The native of Trois-Rivières, Que., has also shown promise in individual competition, placing 14th in her debut at the 2021 world championships in the Netherlands, placing in the top 10 in the 500m and 1,500m .
WATCH | The Canadian women’s relay team put on an excellent performance in Montreal:
While young people can often be a barrier to taking on more of a leadership role, experience can be very helpful.
« I realized a few years ago that I really had an impact on people, » said Sarault, who joined the senior team at the same age as Brunelle. « I realized that a lot of people had faith in me and I had to make sure everyone was okay, as they saw me as a leader.
« In speed skating you can sometimes get selfish and focus on yourself, but this year helping others is helping myself. Making others feel comfortable and happy, it helps you a lot more than you think. »