Almaty, Kazakhstan

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When Samuel Girard (CAN) returned to the podium for the first time this season, he did so with a bang, winning two gold medals and a silver on the final day of action at the ISU World Cup Short Track in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The PyeongChang 2018 1000m gold medalist led the 500m final from start to finish and got his fourth World Cup victory over the distance 14 hundredths of a second clear of Overall world ranking No.1 Shaoang Liu (HUN). Home favorite Abzal Azhgaliyev (KAZ) won bronze.

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Samuel Girard (CAN) leads in the Men’s 500m final © International Skating Union (ISU)

The first two World Cups were a bit harder but we’ve trained really hard for the past two weeks to be ready for this one and everything was set to win here,” Girard said.

“I’m pretty fast on the start, that gives me a good advantage, and I think that this weekend I was a little more patient so I was reading the race better, trying to find a good moment to pass.”

Less than an hour later, Girard sprinted past Lee June Seo (KOR) in the final meters of the 2000m Mixed Relay, winning gold with Cedrik Blais (CAN), Alyson Charles (CAN) and Kim Boutin (CAN) ahead of Republic of Korea after a photo finish. China won bronze.

“It was really exciting,” Girard said.

“I knew that I had a gap and I wanted to catch up on him and I didn’t know when I would catch him, but I saw the opportunity and thought, ‘Let's just go, let’s do this’ so I felt the instinct, I went for it and it was a gold medal.”

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Abzal Azhgaliyev of Kazakhstan (left) poses with his bronze medal after the Men’s 500m © International Skating Union (ISU)

Shortly after, the 22-year-old was back on the ice with Pascal Dion (CAN), Steven Dubois (CAN) and Charles Hamelin (CAN), and winning silver in the Men’s 5000m Relay behind the Netherlands.

“Personally I’m really happy to be back really strong on the track. I did some great moves on the ice, I feel strong and it is really nice to have a result and be back on the podium, Girard said after finishing ahead of bronze medalists China. “I am really excited for the next World Cup (in Dresden, 1-3 February).”

“We are leaving tonight so I’m going to sleep well on the plane.”

Canada and Republic of Korea had taken turns to be in the front for most of the 45 laps but Canada missed the chance of a gold medal after veteran Hamelin, 34, fell with seven laps to go. Instead, Netherlands took up the chase. After two strong finishing laps, Sjinkie Knegt (NED) caught up with Lim Hyo Jun (KOR) in the closing stretch but did not manage to get around Lim – this year’s Olympic 1500m champion. However, the Korean was penalized for blocking his rival’s way and Netherlands were awarded the gold medal.

“This team did a good ending of the race,” Knegt said. “We speeded it up, we closed the gap, Lim slipped a little and then he tried everything to block me.”

The Korean men can still look back at a successful weekend in Almaty. Lim, Kim Gun Woo (KOR) and Hwang Dae Heon (KOR) had won gold, silver and bronze respectively in Saturday's 1500m (1) final and Rep. Korea repeated the clean sweep in the distance’s second competition on Sunday, Kim winning gold ahead of Hong Kyung Hwan (KOR) and Lee June Seo (KOR).

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Rep. Korean trio Lim Hyo Jun (center), Kim Gun Woo (left) and Hwang Dae Heon who won gold, silver and bronze respectively in Saturday's 1500m (1) final © International Skating Union (ISU)

The weekend’s biggest cheers in Halyk Arena were for Abzal Azhgaliyev, who, after claiming 500m bronze, was swarmed by fans and volunteers wanting a photo or autograph from the host nation’s only medalist at Almaty’s inaugural World Cup event.

“It felt great. I’m proud of my country and I’m really happy and I think that many fans in Kazakhstan also are very happy to get the first medal in this competition,” said Azhgaliyev, who finished fifth in the 1000m final on Saturday.

“I’m a little tired from having raced five 1000m races yesterday so today it was tough in the beginning but from the semifinal and the final it got easier because so many people supported me. After finishing, a lot of people were happy and made a lot of noise.”

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