SPORTS

Canada's roller speed skating scene heating up

07/13/2015 10:38 EDT | Updated 07/13/2016 05:59 EDT
Out in the heat of a 30-degree summer day, on a high school oval whose track temperature popped up over 35 degrees (that's 100 F), three speed skaters from the winter sports world came to show the powers of the summer version they might have something to contribute to the show.

For most of the time, it was just to watch the far more experienced rollers from countries with a sunbelt pick off Pan Am medals left, right and straight down the centre of the roiling surface, 17 of 18 in the books by the end of the two-day event.

The 18th medallion, however, may have sent a message to the sport's best that Canada might one day be mentioned alongside Colombia (five medals), Mexico and Ecuador (three each) in the same conversation.

It was Jordan Belchos who came through. The same Jordan who won silver as part of the long track team pursuit in the world championships last season, and is the second-fastest Canadian ever at 10,000 metres on frozen water.

He took off from the pack in pursuit of easy winner Mike Paez of Mexico with seven laps to go and piled up enough points to come from nowhere for bronze. 

In the 10K, the leader of each lap gets two points, with one for second place, until the last lap when it's 3-2-1 for the top three. Paez totaled 23, Juan Sebastian Sanz Neira of Colombia had 13 and Belchos nine.

"I don't know if they underestimated me because I'm Canadian, and we don't have a great reputation in this sport yet," said the excited Toronto native, who had his whole family and a pile of friends at Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary School for the race. "[Or it] was them saying, 'We'll get him in the second[(half], but it never came."

Belchos looked over his shoulder a few times after his break away like a man expecting the cops to show up and ticket him for being in an HOV lane, but there was no one there. He was alone, with Paez up ahead, somewhere over the horizon.

The bronze medallist, who actually did inline skating until he was 15 before switching to the slippery track, was willing to put this medal up with the world championship silver because it was right here at home — "five kilometres from where I was born."

Maltais 'not so proud'

Valerie Maltais of La Baie, Que., was the star of the show for Canadian media on Monday, and why not? 

An Olympic silver winner and 10-time world medallist in short track, the personable winter star chatted about how inline was great training for the ice, and how much she respected the inline powers, and how she hoped the sport would grow in these parts.

Maltais did not advance out of the semis in the morning 500-metre racing (not a surprise, the longer distances are her thing) and was seventh in the evening 10K with a single point.

Though it was only her second top-level inline competition, she showed the pride of the world-class athlete in the morning mix zone.

"When I come to a race and finish last in my semifinal, I'm not so proud of what I did," she said. "As the same time, I learned something from that."

Christopher Fiola of Montreal, one of Canada's top upcoming long trackers and a young man who amazingly broke both legs (one three weeks after the other healed) back in a 2012 competition, was eighth in his 500m semi. 

He talked at length about how the nation needs better facilities (anyone want to build a banked oval for these guys?) and more experience, but also about how much fun it was to skate in the heat, a theme all the northerners broached on the day.

"Skating in the heat is pretty awesome. You get your tan in and you're out in the sun," he said. "We skate indoors in Calgary [where he's based now] but where I trained in Quebec City [when younger], we trained outside and we sometimes get minus-40 Celcius, so it's fun in the sun."

Maltais felt the same way.

"I always want to train when it's hot, so it's not a problem to train in the noon [sun]," she said, dripping with sweat at the end of the day. "Maybe I'm born to go outside more often."

Uh oh, inline powers. The wintry Canadians aren't afraid of the heat. 

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