World Speed Skating Championships: A Second Wind for Valérie Maltais

Valérie Maltais’ coaches advised her to skate with passion, without any pressure, on Sunday, at the World Long Track Speed Skating Championships. They told her to embrace the experience in front of the Calgary audience.

With a more relaxed demeanour, the Quebecois achieved her most pleasing individual results at the World Championships by securing 6th place in the 5000m and 10th in the 1500m.

Maltais had the best season of her career since she transitioned in 2018 from short track to long track racing. The season was marked by three medals in mass start events, an overall title in this category, two podiums in the 3000m and three in team pursuit. However, her experiences at the World Championships were less satisfying and she openly expressed higher expectations for the weekend.

Maltais’s 10th place finish in the 3000m was a major disappointment for the athlete from La Baie. Following this, she won a silver medal in team pursuit alongside Ivanie Blondin and Isabelle Weidemann. A fall during the mass start pushed her back to take 16th place on Saturday.

The skater ended the competition, after a very tiring day, with energy to spare.

“Waking up and feeling like I had more energy than Saturday morning felt almost like a second wind,” she described. “I did my 5000m in compliance with how I was feeling. We are at the World Championships, but I didn’t try to give more than what I was capable of, and I finished the race thinking that this was all I had to give.”

She recorded a time of 7 minutes 2.61 seconds in this event. Recently, she has been experiencing a form of double vision which has led to her planning to undergo medical tests at the end of the month. These will help to determine if concussion-related side effects are causing these symptoms.

Netherlands’ Joy Beune took the gold medal. Her compatriot Irene Schouten finished second, followed by the Czech Republic’s Martina Sáblíková.

Maltais took part in the 1500m event two hours later. Even after the five-kilometre race she had just completed, towards the end of the World Championships, she still had some fuel left in the tank. She managed the best start of her career in this distance and finished in 1 minute 54.99 seconds.

Japan’s Miho Takagi, China’s Mei Han, and Joy Beune were the ones on the podium.

“I felt great and had a good execution. I am mostly a long-distance skater, and it shows that when you’re not a sprinter, you can recover quickly. I’m very proud of how I did my 1500m and, especially, how I closed out these Championships,” she emphasized.

It appears that the veteran skater continues to learn.

“I proved that I can bounce back [after the 3000m]. I never gave up. It’s my love of the sport that spoke and it’s in these moments that I give good performances. These are good lessons that I can take away from the World Championships. Starting a competition on the wrong foot doesn’t mean that the rest will go wrong.”

From coughing to the edge on vomit due to asthma during training to climbing onto the podium three times during the World Championships, Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu never gave up this season. His breathing problems reemerged on Sunday after he finished 16th in the 1500m.

He was seen out of breath in the closing stretch and after crossing the finish line. The skater was in the 6th pair and clocked a time of 1 minute 45.20 seconds. He ended the race 3.76 seconds behind the winner, Jordan Stolz of the U.S. Stolz repeated his historic achievement from last year by being crowned World Champion three times in the same year, a feat previously unseen.

The Netherlands’ Kjeld Nuis and Norway’s Peder Kongshaug joined him on the podium.

“I’m pleased with my weekend, and I gave it my all in the 1500m, but now, my body is due for some well-deserved rest,” the Quebecer told Sportcom by text, unable to have a live voice discussion due to an asthma attack.

As mentioned earlier, Gelinas-Beaulieu’s asthma has posed many challenges this season and it has impacted his performance.

One concerning situation occurred during a training session last fall, between the World Cups in Beijing and Stavanger. The Canadian team was then at a preparation camp in Spain. What was supposed to be an easy bike ride turned out to be strenuous for Gélinas-Beaulieu. Even while walking, he sometimes had to stop, unable to keep up with his teammate Laurent Dubreuil. He remained in bed for a whole week, and the 2023-2024 season seemed to stretch out indefinitely at that point.

His asthma has always posed challenges throughout his career, but the episodes have increased in frequency over time. The intensity of the races, dusty hotel rooms, pollution in cities: the 31-year-old athlete didn’t have much respite on the World Cup circuit.

“At the start of the season, I was getting asthma attacks after every race. It was mentally and physically exhausting. You prepare yourself to race and aren’t scared of feeling pain during the race or mismanaging it. You’re only scared of the asthma attack you’re going to have afterward. It was really tough mentally,” Gélinas-Beaulieu explained at the Quebec World Cup, two weeks before the World Championships.

The triple medalist from the weekend has been taking a new injectable medication for just over two months and is starting to feel its effects. The exertions of Sunday looked to have reached the limits of what he can handle before undergoing bronchial thermoplasty next summer. This procedure involves the burning of the bronchial muscles cause of asthma attacks, which should greatly improve his situation.

“It should help me comfortably pursue high-performance sports,” he pointed out at the Intact Insurance Ice Center.

Gélinas-Beaulieu began the World Championships by defending his title in the team sprint alongside Dubreuil and Anders Johnson. The next day, the trio composed of him, Connor Howe, and Hayden Mayeur won bronze in the team pursuit. Later, on Saturday, he became the vice World Champion in the mass start.

Gélinas-Beaulieu contributed to three of the ten podiums captured by the Canadian delegation at the the Calgary Olympic Ring, a record. Other medals for Quebec were silver for Valérie Maltais and Laurent Dubreuil in female team pursuit and male 500m respectively.

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