Yukon’s short track skaters made quarterfinal run

Yukon athlete Troy Henry was jovial despite hitting a patch of rotten luck in the men’s 1,500-metre speed-skating draw on Sunday.

Yukon athlete Troy Henry was jovial despite hitting a patch of rotten luck in the men’s 1,500-metre speed-skating draw on Sunday.

The 17-year-old Henry skated faster than nearly half the pack that advanced to the sport’s semifinals, but was ousted from the competition in the quarterfinals.

It’s all in the luck of the draw, and luck was working against the Yukon athlete on Sunday.

Henry found himself racing in an unusually speedy pack in the quarterfinal round.

Only the top three finishers advance to the semis, and Henry ended the heat in fourth place.

“I could have made it out of the quarters,” said Henry as the teams broke for lunch.

“You could be in a faster heat and finish with a faster time than all the other heats and still not be able to qualify up,” he said.

Nearby, the Zamboni made its rounds, erasing the skaters’ marks from the ice.

“It’s the luck of the heat,” added team coach Tom Elliot.

If skaters are in a faster heat, they’ll usually finish with faster times.

The finish left Henry ousted from the semis and thrown into what he calls the “mercy final,” an ending round that gives the defeated athletes another chance to skate for rankings.

“It’s good, but it kind of sucks,” said Henry of his rough luck.

“The mercy finals add more depth to the sport,” he said. “It helps the lower down people. If they just quit for the day they don’t get as much racing experience.

“Especially for us up in the North, that is very crucial because we don’t get to race up here as much as they do in the south,” he said.

Being tops at the sport in the territory has its disadvantages, said Henry, who has to travel south to find competition.

“I’ve got nobody to pass and nobody to chase; that means I have to train so much harder because I don’t have the passing knowledge.”

Watching the athletes whirl around the short-track ice at the Games centre is like watching a river.

The heats start out smooth and serene, and end in a rough whirl of flapping arms as the skaters jockey for top positions.

Strategic thinking is important in these 1,500-metre, 13-and-a-half lap races.

And a 10th or even a 100th of a second can sometimes mean everything to the athletes.

“You can’t go full-out at the start because you’ll die,” said 14-year-old Melanie Tait, who finished with a time of 2:50.266 in her preliminary race.

“I knew that they’re a lot faster, so you just stick with them as long as you can,” said Tait.

The Yukon’s athletes are more interested in celebrating the team’s small victories.

Eighteen-year-old Yukon skater Jesse Reams crossed the finish line in the preliminary races with a raised fist and a smile for the home team crowd, having edged out a Nova Scotian skater for fifth place in the heat.

It was “a big PB” — a personal best, said Reams after the race.

That time of 2:30.067 earned Reams a spot in the quarters, where the tall redhead hit a rough patch.

On the first turn off the starting block, Reams caught his blade on one of the black markers lining the course and took a tumble. He skidded across the ice and slammed into the boards.

Undeterred, the 18-year-old skater rose to his feet and finished the race more than two laps behind the first-place finisher.

“It’s tough luck I guess,” said Reams.

Yukon’s racers are using the energy from the hometown crowd to push their long skate blades across the ice.

Sunday night, the Yukon racers were going to head back to the athletes’ village to elevate their legs to drain the lactic acid in preparation for Monday’s 500-metre sprints.

In the ladies’ competition, Ivanie Lise Blondin from Orleans, Ontario, won gold with a time of 2:27.690, Marianne St-Gelais from Quebec took silver at 2:27:747, and Andrea Anh Do-Duc from Montreal took bronze at 2:27.877 in the 55-skater women’s pool.

Northwest Territory team skater Jill Gilday advanced to the final heat, but didn’t medal at 2:31.000.

Meanwhile, Yukon skater Tara MacKinnon finished at 2:48.827, while Tait finished at 2:50.875.

The men’s medal round finished with Ontario’s Nicolas Beam in front at 2:21.350, Quebec’s Guillaume Blais-Dufour with silver at 2:21.681 and Alberta’s Steve Buzinski with 2:24.501.

Yukon skater Henry finished at 2:30.197 and Alexander James Wiens deBruyn finished at 2:44.523 in the 56-skater men’s pool.