Canada’s junior team put forth some impressive results on opening day of the 2019 ISU World Junior Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Montreal. All eight skaters remain in medal contention following an action-packed day of qualification races, advancing in 14 of 18 individual distances and in both the men’s and ladies’ 3000m relay.
Claudia Heeney of Waterloo, Ont. and Courtney Sarault of Moncton, N.B. led the way for the Canadian team, qualifying for the next round in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m. Meanwhile, William Dandjinou of Verdun, Que. and Nicolas Perreault of Sherbrooke, Que made it through in both of their respective distances on the men’s side.
Sarault kicked off the day with a win in her 1500m quarterfinal (2:25.676), narrowly avoiding a collision on the last lap that took out a pair of competitors. Heeney and Juliette Brindamour of Toronto, Ont. also advanced out of their groupings thanks to penalties to other skaters.
“I’m definitely relieved,” said Brindamour about the official’s decision to advance her in the 1500m. “I knew that she put her arm out and pushed me, but I also knew that my pass was really tight. The call could have gone either way, so I got a little lucky I guess.”
Brindamour wasn’t as lucky in the 1000m, failing to finish her preliminary race due to a fall. Sarault and Heeney both earned first-place results in their races, posting times of 1:36.249 and 1:36.974, respectively.
Hee Won Son of Calgary, Alta. made the most of her only individual distance of the competition, moving forward in the 500m by taking the top spot in her preliminary race with a time of 46.580. Joining her in tomorrow’s 500m heats will be Sarault (45.615) and Heeney (45.779).
A pair of Quebecois skaters competing in their very first world championship posted perfect results on opening day.
Dandjinou earned a first-place finish in his 500m preliminary race (41.954), which advanced him to tomorrow’s heats. He will also move forward in the 1500m after finishing second in his heat and first in his quarterfinal.
“I’m very happy,” Dandjinou said about his results. “I was a little stressed in the beginning, but I think that’s normal considering it’s my first experience at the world juniors. The objective was to advance out of today’s groupings and from an individual perspective I did what I had to do.”
His teammate Perreault will also move forward in two individual distances – the 1000m and 1500m. He finished first in his 1500m heat and followed that up with a second spot in his quarterfinal, posting the third fasted of the day in that distance at 2:16.268. He also earned a first-place finished in his 1000m preliminary race (1:29.330).
Canada’s two other male skaters had mixed results.
Félix Pigeon of Saint-Pie, Que. advanced to the heats of the 500m after a second-place finish in his preliminary race (42.213). He failed to move on in the 1000m, with his time of 1:29.478 in the prelimininaries not quite fast enough to earn him one of eight spots reserved for the fastest third-place finishers.
Matej Pederson of Calgary, Alta., had a rough start to his day, failing to move on in both the 500m and 1500m. He got a bit of redemption in the 1000m, finishing second in his preliminary race (1:32.379), which qualified him for Sunday’s heats.
The men’s and women’s relay teams also both advanced to tomorrow’s semifinals.
The men came second in a very tough heat against Korea, China and the United States. They followed that up with a third-place finish in the quarterfinals, but their time of 4:02.056 was enough to earn them one of two qualifier spots in the semifinals.
The ladies’ finished second in their quarterfinal with a time of 4:23.445, behind Korea and ahead of Hungary, to earn a spot in their semifinals.
Hometown crowd creates memorable atmosphere for Canadian skaters
As if competing against the best junior skaters in the world wasn’t difficult enough, doing so on home ice – in front of a crowd full of supporters – certainly adds to the challenge.
“I knew there were going to be some spectators, but I wasn’t expecting so many,” admitted Dandjinou, who was surprised by the number of people in the stands, which included over 600 students from a variety of local schools.
“It was an advantage to have a crowd full of supporters,” he later added. “During my races the fans were screaming, and it really gave me the motivation to give it my all and try to win.”
That sentiment was echoed by many of his teammates, including Juliette Brindamour.
“When I got onto the ice and all the kids were screaming, that was pretty cool and it felt nice,” said Brindamour following her first race of the day. “It made me feel even more confident knowing all those kids were there to support me and to support our team.
The crowd noise also presented some new challenges for the young skater who does not typically compete in front of large groups of spectators.
“During the race it was a bit of an adjustment during the race because you can’t hear the other skaters,” she added. “I wasn’t use to that and it was a little weird.”
500m and 1500m World Junior Champions to be crowned on Saturday
The competition continues tomorrow at the Maurice-Richard Arena with the 500m and 1500m finals, along with the semifinals for both the men’s and ladies’ 3000m relays.
All eight Canadian skaters will be in action on Saturday, with seven of them still in contention for medals in individual distances.
On the men’s side, Perreault and Dandjinou will skate in the 1500m semifinals, while Pigeon will join Dandjinou in the 500m heats. Pederson will also hit the ice, competing in the 500m and 1500m ranking finals. On the ladies’ side, Sarault and Heeney will participate in the next round in both distances, joined by Brindamour in the 1500m semifinals and Son in the 500m heats.
The men’s relay team will be up against China, Kazakhstan and Russia in their semifinals, while the women’s squad will match up against Korea, Italy and the United States in theirs.