Salt Lake City, USA

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Alyson Charles (CAN) is well known within Canadian Short Track circles for her explosive starting on the ice but the 20-year-old sprinter from Montreal has made an even faster start to her World Cup career.

After winning two individual bronze medals on her World Cup debut in Calgary last week, Charles claimed her first gold with a stunning finish in Sunday’s Ladies’ 1000m (2) final at the ISU World Cup Short Track in Salt Lake City, USA.

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Alyson Charles of Canada celebrates after winning the Ladies' 1000m final Salt Lake City, 2018 © International Skating Union (ISU)

“It feels all a bit surreal,” Charles said after pipping Anna Seidel (GER) on the line by three thousandths of a second to clinch victory, with Noh Ah Rum (KOR) taking bronze. “I didn’t expect to even have a medal last week so a gold this week is a bit crazy. The ice here is super fast which I think helps me but it also helps everybody else too.”

Charles’ victory was even more unlikely, given that she began the day in the repechage rounds, having come third in her heat on Friday. It meant she had to win through an additional two rounds of racing just to make the quarter-finals.

“At the start of the day, I was thinking, ‘I just need to get through the repechages somehow, and then see what happens,” she said. “Somehow I managed to make it through to the final and I just gave it my all out there. It’s been a long day for me, six races including the (2000m) Mixed Relay too, and I’m really feeling it in my legs now. I’m ready for it to be over now.”

It was quite an achievement for a skater who describes herself as an out-and-out 500m specialist, and one who’s still learning her trade at the longer distances. “I wouldn’t say I love the 1000m more than the 500m yet but I’m just trying to do every single distance and get better at all of them,” she said.

Charles’ win has also catapulted her into third place in the overall World Cup standings for 1000m with 15,120 points, although Suzanne Schulting (NED) is still comfortably leading with 20,000 points.

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Natalia Maliszewska (POL) leads a determined Suzanne Schulting (NED) at the ISU World Cup Cup Short Track, Salt Lake City, 2018 © International Skating Union (ISU)

There were fewer surprises in the Ladies’ 500m final, as Natalia Maliszewska (POL) backed up her debut World Cup victory in Calgary with a second gold medal. Maliszewska’s explosive speed over the shorter distance was just too much in the final couple of laps for the versatile Schulting, who added a silver medal to go with Saturday’s 1000m (1) gold.

“It was quite a close finish,” said a delighted Maliszewska. “I managed to pass Suzanne and just held first place to the line. Winning in Calgary helped me a lot, it meant I was going through this whole race with the mindset that I was going to win. But Suzanne is amazing as she’s so good at every distance. Me, I’m just naturally a sprinter, nothing can change that. My body’s built for speed. I think my top speed in the final in Calgary was the fastest lap ever done by a woman. You won’t find me skating the 1500m, that’s for sure.”

Maliszewska admitted that since she won in Calgary, it’s been impossible to separate her from her gold medal. “It’s my lucky charm,” she smiled. “It’s in my backpack right now. I’ve been carrying it with me all the time since I got it.”

The sprinter continues to be a trailblazer for Short Track Speed Skating in her native Poland: in 2015, she became the first Short Track skater representing Poland to win a World Cup medal, and this year became the first Polish woman to win a World Championship medal and is now also the first Polish woman to win World Cup gold.

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A jubilant Natalia Maliszewska, of Poland, celebrates after winning the Ladies' 500m final at Salt Lake City, 2018 © International Skating Union (ISU)

With her success continuing to raise Short Track’s profile in her homeland, she hopes that she will soon have some more national rivals to push her harder in training.

“I really hope that because of this, I’m soon going to have somebody who’s going to be at my back and kicking my ass to go harder,” she laughed.

Maliszewska’s victory also means she now tops the World Cup standings over 500m, with 25,120 points, ahead of Fan Kexin (CHN) with 16, 078 points.

However, in contrast to the celebratory mood in the Polish camp, there were mixed emotions for Team USA. While Kristen Santos (USA) reached her first World Cup A final in the 1000m (2), national coach Wilma Boomstra could not help but reflect on what might have been. Santos was right in the mix in the final, before making a crucial error which led her ultimately to finish last.

“I’m really happy but I’m so disappointed too, because we were so close and I know she was good enough to medal,” Boomstra said. “It’s just the beginning. In three months, she’s made huge progress. My program is a lot of intensity and she’s adapted really well. Her speed has gotten a lot faster, and speed endurance, but she’s also a lot stronger. We still need to work on her mindset because she’s not used to being this good, so she gets a lot of nervous anxiety, but she’ll be fine. We’ll get it next time.”

The Republic of Korea won the Ladies’ 3000m Relay, with Russia taking silver and Japan bronze. Rep. Korea are now joint-top with Russia in the event’s World Cup classification, each with 18,000 points.

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