Charles Hamelin will go into the world short-track speed skating world championship looking for gold.
The defending Olympic 500 metre champion dominated that event again this year on the World Cup circuit.
“I’ll go in there confident,” the Ste. Julie, Que., skater said this week. “I’ve had good results this year.
“The new strategy I’ve been using the last couple of races shows that the work I’ve done in the last four years had paid off. It looks good for the world championships.”
The Canadian team leaves this week for Budapest, where it will train ahead of the world championships March 8-10 in Debrecen, Hungary.
Hamelin came away with nine medals from the six World Cup meets this season, including four gold, and won the season title at 500 metres.
The 28-year-old has worked on race strategy since the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, trying to be less predictable as he gets into position for the final push to the finish line.
He hopes it will make him a more dangerous skater when he defends his title at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, which are now only a year away.
“It’s a long process,” he said. “It takes a lot of races.
“Changing habits is difficult. After four years, it’s just starting to show that I can do different things and still be confident. The closer you get to Sochi, the more focused you are on it. But you still have to stay focused on the moment. If you don’t do things well at the World Cup or the world championships, it’s a missed opportunity to work on things and get better.”
He does not go into Debrecen as defending champion. That title belongs to teammate Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Que., who edged Hamelin in the final last year in Shanghai. Hamelin settled for 500-metre silver for a second straight world championships.
However, Jean is on the rebound from a concussion suffered in a fall at the third World Cup meet of the season at Nagoya, Japan, and may not be in top form. He was off skates for six weeks dealing with headaches and vision trouble.
Jean was back for the fifth World Cup on the Olympic track at Sochi and the final meet in Dresden, Germany, last week. He was eliminated in the first round of the 1,000 metres and only made the 500-metre quarter-finals in Sochi, but made both finals at Dresden.
“It was a huge improvement,” said Jean, who has been back on skates for five weeks. “I feel I’m improving every day.
“Mentally it’s hard. I’m trying to follow the best guy in the world [Hamelin] in training every day. I’m not 100 per cent yet. I need to stay focused on the work I have to do. But I’m 100 per cent sure I’ll be ready to defend my title in four weeks.”
Jean and Hamelin are members of the reigning world champion relay squad as well.
On the women’s side, Valerie Maltais of La Baie, Que., will defend her 3,000-metre title. Marie-Eve Drolet of Laterriere, Que., won a pair of bronze medals at Shanghai.
Marianne St. Gelais of St. Felicien, Que., the 2010 Olympic 500-metre silver medalist, will be looking to get back on the world championship podium. She had two silver medals and a bronze at World Cups this season.
And she’s anxious to resume her rivalry with Wang Meng, the four-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time overall World Cup champion who was expelled from the Chinese squad in 2011 after a fight with the team manager.
At Dresden last week, Wang set a 500-metre world record and St. Gelais shattered the Canadian record while finishing second in the same race.
“She’s been there since the start of the season and she’s completely the same as Vancouver, maybe even stronger,” St.Gelais said of Wang. “I always want to be in the 500 and 1,000 final, but I’ll focus on the process to get there.
“In the races, I want to be aware of everything and make good passes. I want to race against Wang again. It was exciting to do it in Germany.”
The World Cup at Sochi gave the skaters a chance to compete at the Olympic venue, the Iceberg, and get a look at the Black Sea resort town.
“It’s pretty boring because Sochi is separated in three parts and the village is very far away, but the city is amazing,” St. Gelais said. “The Iceberg is pretty awesome.
“It was fun to go there. And the volunteers and everyone were pretty nice with us, so it was good.”