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Speed skater Maltais sets course for Sochi success

The Canadian Press

10/9/2012 3:42:16 PM

MONTREAL -- Going home empty-handed from the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver made Valerie Maltais more determined than ever to win at least one medal at the next Olympics.

Since Vancouver, the 22-year-old has become one of the top skaters on the Canadian short-track speed skating team and she wants to be even better at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.

"I focused more after the Olympics," Maltais said Tuesday at the national team training centre at the Maurice Richard Arena. "I saw what it was to be on the top so I wanted to be better.

"At the Olympics, it wasn't the performance of my life. I saw what I had to do. I had to focus and train more."

Maltais was 19 at the Vancouver Games when she finished 14th in the 1,500-metre event and then was left off the four-woman relay team.

She watched her teammates, led by Marianne St-Gelais, bask in the glow of winning silver medals on home ice, while on the men's side Charles Hamelin won the 5,000 metres and helped Canada to another gold in the relay.

"I turned that emotion into motivation," the now 22-year-old Maltais said. "When I'm having a hard time at practice, I always remember what happened at the Olympics and it kind of gives me energy to finish practice."

Maltais will be a leader on the Canadian team that will begin the fall portion of the World Cup season, which begins Oct. 19-21 in Calgary, followed by another meet Oct. 26-28 in Montreal. Other World Cups begin Nov. 30 in Japan and Dec. 7 in Shanghai.

She was named Speed Skating Canada's female athlete of the year for the 2011-12 season after finishing second overall at the world championships in Shanghai, which included a gold medal in the 3,000-metre race and bronze at 1,000 metres.

"She was really strong," said Yves Hamelin, the team's program director. "By a little bit, she could have been (overall) world champion.

"She fell on her own at the start of the 500 metres and she was the fastest in the previous rounds, so it was impressive. Her performance is still moving up. She's gaining experience and confidence. In terms of the timing for Sochi, she'll be solid."

She is joined on the women's World Cup team by St-Gelais, of St-Felicien, Que., Marie-Eve Drolet of Laterriere, Que., Jessica Gregg of Edmonton, Jessica Hewitt of Kamloops, B.C., and Caroline Truchon of Chicoutimi, Que.

The men's team has Charles Hamelin and his brother Francois, both of Ste-Julie, Que., along with Guillaume Bastille of Riviere-du-Loup, Que., Michael Gilday of Yellowknife, Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Que., and Liam McFarlane of Medicine Hat, Alta.

The women's side was shaken at the end of last season when its French coach Sebastien Cros left without warning after five years on the job to become coach of the Russian team.

Yves Hamelin called it "shocking," but he is confident the women won't skip a beat with new coach Frederic Blackburn, a double silver medallist at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France. He had been assistant coach of the men's development team.

"My primary objective was to find someone who would make the least transition possible, someone with the same philosophy," said Hamelin. "Frederic shared the philosophy of Sebastien, so the athletes aren't in too much of a different environment."

The test will come at the next four World Cups.

Hamelin said that as well as gaining international experience, the team will get a look at new faces among their top opponents, led by the South Koreans who have made extensive changes since last season. South Korea is the all-time leader in Olympic short-track medals with 37, followed by Canada with 25, China with 24 and the United States with 18.

The women will once again have to face Chinese star Wang Meng, who is back after a two-year hiatus.

The Russians are also expected to be a factor in their build-up to 2014.

After the fall season, new selections will be held for the final World Cups in February in Dresden, Germany and in Sochi, where skaters will see the Olympic venue for the first time.

Maltais wants to be there.

"It's exciting to see the city how the venue is," she said. "It will make us feel more that we want to be at the Olympics because you can put an image on your dream."

For Maltais, that image includes a medal around her neck.

"That's the goal," she said. "You don't go to the Olympics just to be there.

"I already did that in Vancouver. I already went to the Olympic just for the experience. Now that part of my life is done and I'm going for the podium."