Photos by Mariah Wilson

Team Canada’s rising female speedskating stars to compete in World Cup Nov 2–4 at the Olympic Oval

By Kristy Koehler, November 1 2018 —

The Olympic Oval will host the kick-off to Canada’s international short track speedskating season at the International Skating Union World Cup from Nov. 24, 2018. 

Team Canada’s short-track speedskating team hit the ice at the Oval Oct. 31 to train for the competition. The men’s team roster includes veterans like Charles Hamelin and Samuel Girard. Hamelin is a multiple Olympic gold medalist starting his 16th season as a World Cup competitor. Girard is also an Olympic gold medalist and the first Canadian to win Olympic gold in the 1000 metre event.

The women’s team roster is full of Canada’s rising stars in the sport. Three women in particular are looking to make a name for themselves in short track speedskating — Alison Desmarais, Courtney Sarault and Claudia Gagnon. It’s the first World Cup for all three.

“I’m really excited because this is my first World Cup and it’s on home ice,” said a beaming Desmarais. “And I’m also a little nervous, because it’s my first World Cup.”

Her excitement was palpable.

“This is my first international event. I spent the last two seasons working to get on to a World Cup team. Now I’m here!” she said.

Desmarais grew up in Vanderhoof, B.C., moving to Calgary after graduating from high school to train at the Olympic Oval. She trained there from 2015 until about three weeks ago, when she moved to Montreal.

“It kind of feels like I still live in Calgary because I’ve only been in Montreal for three weeks. I trained here for three years,” she said.

Her whole family — cousins, uncles, aunts and former teammates — are coming to the World Cup to cheer her on. Having a cheering section doesn’t make her any more nervous though.

“It’s gonna be a party,” she said. “They’re all the type of people who are going to be excited for me no matter how I perform.”

Desmarais has a personal best time of 43.888 seconds in the 500 metre short track. She’ll considering beating her own personal best as a win, acknowledging that the current world record holder, British skater Elise Christie, is competing with a personal best of 42.335 seconds.

“Right now where I’m at in my career I think it would be lofty to say I could go out and skate that this weekend,” she said. “If I get faster, mid-43 or low-43, that would be a win for sure.”

Team Canada speedskater Alison Desmarais

Gagnon echoes her sentiments, not focusing on an all-out win, but hoping to improve her own time.

“I want to improve myself — to show everyone that I’m young, but I’m here. I just want to do my best,” she said.

Sarault is no stranger to tough competition. She was a triple-medalist at the 2018 ISU World Junior Championships and was named Short Track Rising Star of the Year by Speed Skating Canada.

This competition, she says, is a little different.

“This is the best in the world. We’re all a little nervous, but we’re all in it together and can help each other out,” she said. “I’m looking for experience. If I go in looking for a medal, I might stress myself out too much. I don’t expect it from myself — not for the first one.”

Desmarais has Olympic dreams. She says it would be a “dream come true” to compete on home ice.

“Honestly, I never really thought it would happen because you never really know if the Olympics will be in your home city,” said Desmarais. “Now that Calgary might have them, it would be amazing.”

Gagnon is also an Olympic hopeful.

“My family would come for sure,” she said. “It’s so nice to compete in front of your country!”

All three women say Hamelin and Girard have been inspirational, offering advice and helping them prepare for competition.

Tickets for the competition are available online at the Oval’s website.

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