CALGARY - It's crowded again on Canada's short-track speedskating team.
Four Olympic medallists who took last season off to rest or recuperate from injuries are back in the saddle, which should make for stiff competition at the national trials starting Friday at the Olympic Oval.
Six men and six women will be named to the Canadian team after at the conclusion of the event Sunday and they will compete in four World Cup races between now and the end of December.
Montreal's Jonathan Guilmette, Tania Vicent of Vercheres, Que., and Alanna Kraus of Abbotsford, B.C., sat out last season due to injuries while Mathieu Turcotte of Sherbrooke, Que., took time off to rest following the 2006 Olympics.
Guilmette and Turcotte won Olympic gold medals in the relay in 2002 and have won multiple medals in individual distances at the Games and world championships. Vicent and Kraus won Olympic silver medals in the relay in 2006.
They will all race this at the Oval this weekend.
"As we know, experience makes a huge difference in such a competition," Canadian short-track director Yves Hamelin said Wednesday at the Oval.
"The veterans will be pretty hard to beat this weekend."
The winners of the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 metres as well as the overall male and female who don't win a race will be named to the teams. The remaining four will be determined by Speed Skating Canada's high-performance committee.
Canada won 32 World Cup and six world championship medals last season, so the expectations are as high, if not higher for 2007-08.
"Last year we exposed 15 new skaters who have never been part of a World Cup previously," Hamelin said. "We have not set specific targets in terms of global number of medals, but for sure intrinsically we think we can achieve the same types of results compared to last year.
"Next year we'll define more in detail what we're targetting on the World Cup circuit to prepare the team for the next year."
The men's team in particular is like a Volkswagen-stuffing contest as Guilmette and Turcotte return to a team that had international success in their absence.
"The men's races will be really interesting," Hamelin said. "I would say at least 10 skaters could make the team and there's only room for six."
Francois-Louis Tremblay, brothers Jean-Francois and Marc-Andre Monette, Steve Robillard and Mathieu Giroux, all of Montreal, and Charles Hamelin of Ste-Julie, Que., give the men's team depth that would be even deeper if Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Que., a two-time World Cup winner in the 500 metres last season, wasn't sidelined until January with a severed tendon in his left leg.
"It's going to be interesting to see what's going on because we never really know who is strong and who is not before the first competition," Tremblay said.
"It's really tough to stay on the team. I've been on the team 10 years and I'm still amazed about that. Every time I have to qualify I can't believe I've made it. All the young guys want to race in World Cups and the older guys like me, we all want to get in there and see what the other countries are doing."
Another set of trials be held in January to determine the team for the Canadian stop on the World Cup circuit Feb. 1-3 in Quebec City, the following weekend in Salt Lake City, the world championships March 7-9 in Gangneung, South Korea, and the world team championships March 15-16 in Beijing.
Kraus didn't compete last season due to tendinitis in her right Achilles tendon and was not able to train for much of the season.
"Coming into this is a little bit scary," she said. "The competition is so early and I don't really feel prepared and am just trying to get back to where I was.
"But I'm getting my speed back and I'm starting to see little bits of myself of myself on the ice, so that's exciting."
The Canadian team has two full seasons of racing before the 2009-10 campaign that will culminate with the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Tremblay says there is a lot of work to do to keep pace with other countries heading into 2010.
"We have to have a better strategic plan before each race to have better technique and improve our endurance for long distances because Canadians have always been better in the short distances," he said.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2007 $sourceSection$sourcePage