(Peter McCabe/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Ten Canadians are set to compete at the ISU world short track speed skating championships next month in Dordrecht, Netherlands, their first competition since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports last March.
The March 5-7 event will be the lone international competition of the season after all six World Cups, including those in Laval, Que., and Montreal last November, were cancelled.
The 2020 world championships was one of the first international sporting events cancelled early in the global pandemic.
Leading the way for Canada is Charles Hamelin of Sainte-Julie, Que., making his 17th appearance.
"I am excited about this team," Canadian coach Sébastien Cros said in a Speed Skating Canada news release."Again, the unbeatable Charles Hamelin will be there to lead and guide our youth."
World Cup medallists Steven Dubois, Courtney Sarault and Alyson Charles will compete at worlds for a second time while preparing for their debut is Florence Brunelle, Danaé Blais and Claudia Gagnon. Fellow Canadians Maxime Laoun, Jordan Pierre-Gilles and William Dandjinou are newcomers to the world stage on the men's side.
'We faced a lot of challenges this year'
"I feel really excited and blessed to get the chance to finally skate again," said Sarault, who hails from Moncton, N.B. "We faced a lot of challenges this year, so it will be interesting to see how our year of just training and no competitions pays off.
"I feel really good mentally and physically right now, so I will go into this competition with some high hopes."
It's the only competition of the year, so it's up to us to be bold and seize the opportunity. — Canadian short track coach Sebastien Cros
Cros echoed Sarault comments, noting all skaters have worked hard under difficult circumstances.
"Since the beginning of January, we have had great intensity in training; the physical form is there, and we will be ready to race," said Cros. "Without benchmarks for this season, our ability to adapt and challenge the Europeans — who have had opportunities to compete — will be of utmost importance."
"That said, we are not going to the world championships to get some fresh air, we want to perform regardless of the conditions we've dealt with the last few months. It's the only competition of the year, so it's up to us to be bold and seize the opportunity."
Brunelle, Sarault, Hamelin, Dubois and Laoun will be participating in the individual distances, while the remaining skaters will compete in men's and women's relays.
Triple Olympic medallist and 500-metre world record holder Kim Boutin will not travel to the Netherlands, choosing to recharge and refocus ahead of the 2020 Beijing Olympics. A year ago, the 26-year-old from Sherbrooke, Que., withdrew from the final World Cup stop in Dordrecht to prepare for worlds after earning her ninth medal of the season in 10 individual events.
All athletes, coaches and staff members were given the choice to travel to Dordrecht next month, given their comfort level and personal situation in the pandemic.
CBC Sports will provide a live stream of the races and additional coverage on Road to the Olympic Games, beginning March 6 at 4 p.m. ET.