NEWS
10/12/2011 07:33 EDT | Updated 12/12/2011 05:12 EST

St. Gelais prepares for short-track season with or without rival Wang

Speedskater Marianne St. Gelais wants another distance in her pocket as she prepares for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

St. Gelais, an Olympic silver medallist in the 500 metres in 2010, dominated that distance last season by winning all five World Cup races she entered. The 21-year-old from St-Felicien, Que., intends to up her game in the 1,000 this season.

"I only did the 500 in Vancouver so I'd like to race two distances at Sochi," St. Gelais said Wednesday from Montreal.

"I know I can lead a race in the 500. This year I'm going to focus more on the 1,000. I'm not perfect in that distance. The distance is very complex."

St. Gelais and the rest of the Canadian short-track team open the 2011-12 World Cup season next week in Salt Lake City, Utah, before heading home for races in Saguenay, Que., on Oct. 28.

While she may have a clear plan for her winter, St. Gelais is mystified about her rival Wang Meng of China. One reason St. Gelais won the World Cup overall title in the 500 last season was because Olympic champion Wang took the year off.

St. Gelais anticipated going head to head with Wang this season, but the four-time Olympic gold medallist was suspended from the Chinese team in August for drinking and staying out past curfew. China's sports governing body said Wang punched a team official when confronted.

"We heard she's not on the team anymore and has to train with a local club," St. Gelais said. "I hope she's going to be there for the season. I want to race her.

"Wang Meng is a big part of the 500 and I don't consider me a winner because she wasn't there. I want to know where I am and what I have to do to beat her."

St. Gelais also feels she has unfinished business in the 500. A favourite for gold at the world championship in Sheffield, England, earlier this year, she crashed in the semifinal.

She leads a women's team that includes Valerie Maltais of La Baie, Que., Marie-Eve Drolet of Laterriere, Que., Caroline Truchon of Chicoutimi, Que., Gabrielle Waddell of Red Deer, Alta., and Jessica Hewitt of Langley, B.C.

Charles Hamelin of Levis, Que., a double Olympic gold medallist in 2010, his brother Francois, Francois-Louis Tremblay of Alma, Que., Gabriel Chiasson-Poirer of Laval, Que., Yellowknife's Michael Gilday, Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Que., and Guillaume Bastille of Riviere-du-Loup, Que., round out the Canadian men's contingent.

St. Gelais and Hamelin live together in Montreal. One of the enduring images of the 2010 Winter Games was the couple passionately kissing rinkside after Hamelin won gold in the men's 500 metres.

Hamelin is proficient in the 1,000 and is helping St. Gelais master that distance.

"It's because of him I love the distance," she said. "He's so good and so relaxed and he knows how to do it. He's helped me a lot when I have questions and worries."

She says they're able to leave their sport at the rink when they go home.

"On weekends, we have a rule. We don't talk about speed skating," St. Gelais said. "We just want to do normal things like laundry and cleaning."

Also, Speed Skating Canada announced the retirement of Kalyna Roberge. The former world champion in the women's 500 metres won silver medals as a member of the relay team at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics. Roberge, 25, took last season off from competition to go to school.