Bloemen kicks off Olympic long-track speedskating trials with 5k victory

CALGARY — Ted-Jan Bloemen may be the world-record holder in the men’s 5,000 metres, but the speedskater still had to earn the right to race it at the upcoming Winter Olympics.

The 31-year-old from Calgary made life simple for himself, and Speed Skating Canada’s selection committee that ultimately decides who races for Canada, by winning the distance Thursday to kick off the Olympic long-track trials.

Canada has only one quota spot in the Olympic men’s 5k, so Bloemen had to beat his Canadian teammates Thursday to get it, despite his world No. 1 ranking in the distance.

“It was important for me to win this race obviously,” Bloemen said. “There was pressure for me too. I was aware it could still go wrong. I still have to do it, right?”

“Those guys are really good skaters and I train with them everyday. I know what they’re capable of so I know I have to be at my best to win this race. I’m really happy it’s done now.”

The trials at Calgary’s Olympic Oval will complete Canada’s long-track speedskating team for February’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The 10 men and 10 women who will wear the Maple Leaf at the Gangneung Oval will be announced Wednesday.

Bloemen set a world record in the 5k in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Dec. 10 when he won gold at a World Cup.

His time of six minutes 1.86 seconds erased the previous record of 6:03.32 held for a decade by Sven Kramer of the Netherlands.

Bloemen raced a more conservative 6:16.38 on Thursday to finish ahead of runner-up Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., in 6:21.09 and Toronto’s Jordan Belchos in 6:22.90.

Some skaters have been pre-selected to the 2018 Olympic team in certain distances based on results from the first half of this World Cup season, as well as last year’s world single distance championships.

Those still chasing Olympic berths must, at a minimum, place in the top three in trials races and also meet Speed Skating Canada’s time standard in the distance, to be considered for the team.

“It’s another performance-on-demand opportunity for our skaters to skate,” said long-track high-performance director Cara Thibault. “We want that high-pressure situation because we want to send the best athletes.”

Bloemen, for example, was already qualified to race the 10,000 metres in Pyeongchang. He’s also the world-record holder in that distance with a time of 12:36.30, which he set in 2015.

He’s planning to race the 10k at trials Tuesday night for training. Canada has a second quota spot in the men’s 10k in Pyeongchang, so the race will determine who joins Bloemen in that event.

Ottawa’s Ivanie Blondin will race the women’s 3,000 and 5,000 metres as well as the new mass start in Pyeongchang.

Blondin won the women’s 3k on Thursday in 4:04.31 ahead of Isabelle Weidemann of Ottawa in second in 4:05.01 and Brianne Tutt of Airdrie, Alta., in 4:07.52.

“I did what I came out to do and qualify, which is really exciting,” Weidemann said.

“You’ve got to check that box before thinking about anything else, which is kind of hard in an Olympic year because everything is about the hype leading up to the Olympics.”

Tutt, who raced the 1,500 metres at the 2014 Olympic Games, battled illness before trials.

“I’ve been sick for a little while,” she said. “My confidence was a little low coming in. My goal was to just go for it and try and hang on and I did just that.”

Alex Boisvert-Lacroix of Sherbrooke, Que., has already qualified for the Olympic team in the 500 metres. Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Que., and Keri Morrison of Burlington, Ont., will race the mass start in Pyeongchang.

Morrison won both of Canada’s Olympic long-track medals in 2014 with silver in the 1,000 metres and bronze in the 1,500.

The speedskaters who can give Canada the best chance at medals in the men’s and women’s team pursuits will also factor who is named to the long-track team.

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