Fast ice at Calgary’s Olympic Oval produced a trio of world records in World Cup short track speedskating Sunday, while Canadian skaters claimed three silver and a bronze on the final day of competition.
J.R. Celski of the United States became the first man to go under 40 seconds in the 500 metres in 39.973. The American posted that time in the final and took gold ahead of Charles Hamelin of Sainte-Julie, Que., in second.
“I wasn’t really expecting to go that fast today because it’s been a long weekend of racing,” Celski said. “Ice kind of tends to break down over time, but it held its ground and I’m really excited to come out with that world record today.”
South Korea’s Shim Suk Hee and Kwak Yoon-Gy set world records in the women’s and men’s 1,000 metres respectively in the semifinal rounds. Shim went on to win her final, while Kwak took bronze in the men’s final.
Michael Gilday of Yellowknife and Marie-Eve Drolet of Laterriere, Que., earned silver in the men’s and women’s 1,000 metres respectively. The men’s relay team took bronze.
The Canadian team capped the opening World Cup of this season with four silver and a pair of bronze after three days of racing. Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Que., won silver in the 1,000 metres and Hamelin was a bronze medallist in the 1,500 on Saturday.
The men’s relay team set a world record in Friday’s heats.
“Overall, we’re happy,” Canadian short track director Yves Hamelin said. “We had some bad luck, a few falls.
“We have the feedback we’re searching for, so we know where our athletes are compared to the world scene and other athletes. We are on the right track, but competition is very high and some countries improved a lot.”
Six short track world records in total were broken in Calgary, where high altitude and cold weather makes some of the fastest ice in the world.
“We don’t see world records on a consistent basis like this ever,” Gilday said. “Way more than usual.”
With a time of one minute 26.661 seconds, Shim erased the 1,000-metre record set in Friday’s heats by Canada’s Valerie Maltais. Russia’s Vladimir Grigorev had set a new standard of 40.344 in Friday’s 500-metre heats, but Celski shaved more off the record Sunday.
Kwak’s time of 1:23.007 in the men’s 1,000-metre semifinal bettered Hamelin’s record of 1:23.54 set in 2009.
Hamelin, his brother Francois, Gilday and Jean were poised to win that elusive gold medal for Canada in the men’s 5,000-metre relay Sunday.
Canada led for most of the race until Gilday lost an edge with eight laps to go. The Canadians finished the four-team final and were promoted to the podium with China’s disqualification for a racing penalty.
“I went down completely on my own and that’s a big disappointment for me,” Gilday said. “I haven’t checked my skate. I may have stripped an edge or the ice may have just broken out.
“I don’t want to let the guys down. We did get the world record on Friday. It would have been nice to top that off with a win. It happens to the best of us.”
Marianne St. Gelais of St.-Felicien, Que., flew hard into the crash pads in the semifinal of the women’s 500 metres.
The double silver medallist at the 2010 Winter Olympics required assistance off the ice. Because of concussion-like symptoms, St. Gelais was scratched from the ‘B’ final and the women’s relay.
“We’re not sure about my situation right now,” St. Gelais said. “We have to take a couple days to see what’s going to happen. I’m feeling OK. I have a little bit of a headache.”
Gilday finished second to Victor An of Russia in the men’s 1,000-metre final. Wang Meng of China claimed gold in the women’s 500 metres.
South Korea won gold and Russia the silver in the men’s relay. South Korea also won the women’s relay followed by China and Japan.
The Canadian skaters say the ice in Calgary is fun, but it’s forgiving of competitors who don’t glide well. That allows skaters to bunch up and creates more potential for crashes.
“People don’t die as fast,” Drolet explained. “It’s kind of easier to glide, pick up some speed and keep it. That’s easier for people who usually have trouble in long distances. It makes the race harder and challenging for sure. There’s more passing and more craziness.”
The second World Cup stop is in Montreal starting Friday. The majority of the Canadian team is from Quebec.
“It’s going to be home ice, the real home ice,” said Yves Hamelin, who is also the father of Charles and Francois. “Here, we skate once in a while, but in Montreal they’re really used to the ice and it’s definitely not the same profile, the same ice.
“It’s slower than in Calgary, so we expect our athletes to be in their comfort zone and use this weekend’s feedback as a prep for next weekend.”