Olympic 1000m champion Samuel Girard (CAN) says other sports should watch and learn from Short Track Speed Skating’s introduction of a Mixed Relay, in which men and women compete together over 2000m.
The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games hero, who passed Lee June Seo (KOR) in the final meters to win the Mixed Relay at the Almaty World Cup for Canada with a photo finish, is excited to be competing in this season’s new gender barrier-breaking event.
“I think it shows to other sports that we can have mixed gender in every sport,” Girard said.
“Since the beginning of Short Track it’s always been men and women separated but now we have the mixed and it’s worked really well so I think that other sports have to focus on that too because it’s really fun to do. It’s not to compare with only the boys or only the girls – we have to work together and that’s really nice.”
In Canada, the men’s and the ladies’ teams have different coaches and competing together has strengthened bonds within the whole group.
“We have to work together, the girls and the boys, so that means that the team comes really close and the chemistry grows really fast,” Girard said.
“They (the girls) learn from us but we also learn from the girls. It’s really nice to share experiences and share the coach, with the techniques and all of that stuff. That’s really, really nice for us.”
The big challenge comes in the exchanges, where the athletes have realized that the men need to hold back a little bit on the power when they push the women.
“We need to work on the exchange with boys usually being stronger so we have to manage the push and how we enter on the ice. All of that makes the Relay really interesting for the crowd. It’s really nice to see,” Girard said.
Canada teammate Kim Boutin agrees, and enjoys a flying start following a strong push from the men.
“It helps us to challenge ourselves to be pushed by a guy and it’s good for the synergy of the group,” she said.
“It’s always going to be a hard race to win because in many countries there are two strong girls and guys so it makes it really interesting and hard to do something great in.”
Boutin is not surprised that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has included the Mixed Relay in the programme for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
“There are already some other mixed events in the Games and it’s obviously what the people want to see,” she said.
The difference in push power came as a shock the first time most of the skaters on the World Cup circuit tried it.
“In the first corner I was just hoping that I would be able to keep standing on my two feet. So in the second relay he said he’d be a bit more gentle with the push. Then it was still fast but that was good. So it’s difficult for the guys, they can’t just push as hard as they can, they have to be careful.”
Netherlands have twice finished on the podium in the World Cup’s first three Mixed Relay finals and look strong ahead of their home ISU European Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Dordrecht, in January. However, van Ruijven also sees the new event as a chance for smaller Short Track nations to have a shot at the Relay.
“I think that for a lot of countries it’s a good option when you don’t have four girls or four boys,” she said.
“I think it’s fun, it’s nice, it’s spectacular and it’s cool when I start in the Mixed Relay and get a push from a guy. You get a really hard push and it’s really hard to skate your first corner then but it’s nice to do something with the guys.”
Csaba Burjan (HUN) had been a little worried about his female teammates in the exchanges.
“I thought, if Shaolin (Sandor Liu, HUN) is skating at top speed and a girl is taking his push, maybe she is going to die,” he said.
“It is a little dangerous, men’s and women’s relay, and I thought the girl would have two hands on the ice.”
However, Hungary stood firm at the Salt Lake City World Cup, winning the Mixed Relay ahead of Netherlands and France. Burjan adds that there are also many positive aspects of this season’s new event.
“I think that it’s good for the team spirit because boys and girls are a little bit different but now we are skating together and now we need more teamwork,” he said.
“We are much closer in the group now that we are skating together.”