Andy Jung (20), Pierre Boda (24), Keanu Blunden (18), Liam O’Brien (18), Alex Bryant (20) and Josh Kah (17) were announced by Australian Ice Racing Incorporated (AIR) as the ‘strongest team in many years’.
The athletes were vying for a place for four ISU World Cups, which are the special qualifying competitions to determine the number of Olympic Quota spots at the PyeongChang Olympics next February.
For the first time in a decade, Australian Ice Racing Incorporated (AIR) had more qualified men than World Cup spots available requiring time trials to select the top six Short Track racers.
The young team aim to build Australia’s proud short track heritage, which AIR President Frank Anderson says signals a bright future.
“Six years ago, we were at our lowest ebb for membership and skaters. That has now doubled,” Mr Anderson says.
“We implemented a variety of things including changing the culture within the sport a little, worked to build the junior numbers and brought back our ‘masters’ to help guide the sport and younger members.”
“For High Performance, we rewrote the selection policy with more emphasis on excellence. The aim was to build a group of skaters to vie for spots – making them earn a spot, instead of just filling a spot.”
“We made it harder to make the national team,” he explained.
As an indication of how that strategy has worked, the National Junior Team broke the Australian International Senior Men’s 3000m record at this year’s World Junior Championships.
Andy Jung made a clean sweep in the Trials over all three distances and is clearly in form, despite saying that he felt, “a little bit uncomfortable because it’s the first comp of the Olympic season but it ended well.”
“I feel mentally stronger,” Jung said.
Pierre Boda came in a solid overall second, having battled cold symptoms the previous week, Keanu Blunden third and Liam O’Brien fourth.
Fifth place Alex Bryant admitted he wasn’t skating “that great yet” as his focus has been on technique in the pre-season with the plan being to progressively get faster.
Sixth place and a new-comer to the World Cup circuit will be 17-year-old Josh Kah – son of three-time speed skating (long track) Winter Olympian Danny Kah (1988, ’92 and 94) and nephew of John Kah (1992 short track Olympian and member of Australia’s World Champion 5000m relay team).
Josh is expected to compete in the first two World Cups and miss the final two because of his final high school exams.
AIR President Frank Anderson has his fingers crossed for a possible return to the big time in the relay event.
“We’ve set a High Performance standard, have a good partnership with the Olympic Winter Institute Australia and the strongest men’s team in many years. I do have my fingers crossed for a relay team,” Anderson says. “The future is definitely bright.”
“Deanna (Lockett) is world class. Living in Korea full time - she does miss home but she’s absolutely focused with one goal in mind – PyeongChang.”
Anderson says a win is possible for Lockett.
“At the World Cup in Dresden Deanna was fourth in the 1500m and it was very exciting to watch. Equally exciting were the World Championships where she qualified first in the 1500m heats.”
The tactical challenge for Australian Ice Racing will be deciding who competes in which races at the World Cups, particularly with a young, but eager and motivated team.
“Each man can only skate in two of the three distances (500m, 1000m and 1500m) at each World Cup. The focus will be on the maximum possible Olympic quota places.”
In announcing the Men’s World Cup team after the trials at Canterbury Olympic Ice Rink this morning, Anderson encouraged the squad to work together.
“Do not be a team of individuals, be an individual team.”
By Belinda Noonan