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Canada adds two individual medals at short-track World Cup event in Montreal

Felix Roussel Felix Roussel - The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Danaé Blais raised her arms in celebration just before crossing the finish line, certain she’d just brought home gold for Canada in the women’s 3,000-metre relay.

She was right in that assumption, but the razor-thin margin by which she, Courtney Sarault, Renée Steenge and Florence Brunelle won left the result in some doubt to the spectators looking on.

In the end, Canada’s time of four minutes 7.935 seconds beat the second-place United States by 0.013 and the third-place Netherlands by 0.045.

“I think I celebrated a little too early,” said Blais. “I gotta be careful because sometimes you can get caught at the finish line."

Canada swept the relays and won two individual medals Sunday in the first ISU World Cup short-track speedskating event of the season.

Blais’s teammates had little doubt the 24-year-old from Chateauguay, Que., had finished the job.

"I knew we won, so when she celebrated I was like, 'go off, as you should,'" said Sarault.

The Canadian men — the reigning Olympic champions — built off that momentum as William Dandjinou, Steven Dubois, Pascal Dion and Jordan Pierre-Gilles captured gold in the 5,000-metre relay.

The hometown crowd at Maurice Richard Arena jumped to its feet as Dandjinou skated home on the final lap. South Korea took silver and Japan collected bronze.

Pierre-Gilles said starting the season with a gold medal should put the other countries on notice.

“I think we’ve been sending a message for quite awhile,” he said. “We’re putting some weight behind that message now.”

Although the double gold was a perfect end to the weekend, the Canadians had hoped to achieve more on an individual level.

Canada finished with three individual medals — one on Saturday — all of which came from the men’s side.

Coach Sebastien Cros said he saw signs of progress despite not meeting their podium expectations.

“It ended well today with the relays," Cros said. "Individually, it's a little disappointing in terms of the result, but from what we saw in the races on the whole, it's not too bad.

“That little error, that little detail we missed made it so on an individual level. We could have done a little better. We'll try next week to do a little better on that."

Felix Roussel of Sherbrooke, Que., earned silver in the men’s 500 metres, finishing half a skate blade behind reigning Olympic champion Liu Shaoang of China. French skater Quentin Fercoq took bronze.

It was the first time Roussel had claimed silver in an individual World Cup event, and a first medal on home soil.

"It's crazy. My family was here, my friends, my girlfriend, I was just really happy they could live this moment with me,” he said. “When you're on the other side of the world there's a time difference, it’s less available on television.”

Dandjinou, of Montreal, picked up a bronze in the second men’s 1,000-metre event of the weekend. South Korea’s Gun Woo Kim captured gold and Italy’s Luca Spechenhauser took silver.

The 22-year-old Dandjinou, who won the Canadian national championship earlier this month, was in second place coming down to the final laps, but attempted to gain first and ultimately fell back to third.

“It was incredible,” he said. “But of course I would’ve liked to give them a nicer colour.”

“He was second, he could’ve stayed there, but he tried to win,” added Cros. “It didn’t work out but this state of mind, this attitude is what we want to have as a team, because at the end of the day that’s how we’re going to win races.”

Three-time Olympic medallist Dubois was the only Canadian to earn some hardware on Saturday with a silver medal in the first men’s 1,000-metre event.

Canada came close to finding the podium on two other occasions Sunday.

Fredericton’s Rikki Doak was fourth in the women’s 500-metre final and Sarault, from Moncton, N.B., finished fourth in the women’s 1,000-metre final.

“(The results) show the depth we have on the men’s side, on the women’s I think there’s a little missing but that will come,” said Cros.

Sarault, Canada’s national champion on the women’s side, said she wasn’t feeling at her best physically throughout the weekend.

"I wouldn't say it was my best competition ever,” she said. “But I still made the A final and got a fourth place … so I'm proud of how I guess I managed how I'm feeling, but I'm definitely going to not do anything next week. Just recover and regroup.”

Sarault was one of 12 Canadian skaters in the event as 33 countries and 184 athletes arrived in Montreal for the first two World Cup events this season. Skaters will return to Maurice Richard Arena next weekend for the second competition.

Some Canadian skaters will then take part in a third consecutive competition at home as Laval, Que., hosts the Nov. 3-5 Four Continents speedskating championships at Place Bell.

Cros believes there will be some better individual results before the short-track circuit leaves Canada.

"Everything we worked on in training, we see it's there, we see we're close,” he said. “It'll take a little refinement, so that's positive."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2023.