Alyson Charles (CAN) at the ISU Worl Cup Short Track Speed Skating (USA) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
Get used to hearing the name Alyson Charles. The 20-year-old has enjoyed a stunning rookie season on the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating circuit and is at the vanguard of a youthful charge to shake up the sport’s established order.
Alyson Charles (CAN) at the ISU Worl Cup Short Track Speed Skating (CAN) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
Charles has claimed nine World Cup podium places in her first five meets. She won individual gold in just her third start over 1000m, with a further two bronze medals and two fourth place finishes propelling her to third in the distance’s season rankings. Add on two bronze medals in the 500m and you can see why Team Canada is quietly excited.
For the racer herself, it has been quite a ride.
“At first I was surprised but as I went on I have been like, ‘OK, I can do this’,” Charles said. “At each World Cup there have been things I wanted to achieve and I have worked hard to get them. I have pushed my limits in every race and I have learned so much.”
Alyson Charles (CAN) at the ISU Worl Cup Short Track Speed Skating (ITA) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
Charles, while clearly naturally modest, is not shy of her success. And it is this sense of self which marks her out even among the horde of talented young female skaters currently making their way on the international scene.
“Now I do feel like I belong,” she said, having finished behind Olympic champion Suzanne Schulting (NED) and four-time European gold medalist Sofia Prosvirnova in the 1000m 2018-19 World Cup standings. “I think I am ready to compete with the best in the world. I think I can challenge them and I can dream of being on the podium in big races.”
Charles is part of a vibrant, young Canadian squad that is already turning heads. The post-PyeongChang 2018 retirements of multiple Short Track Speed Skating Olympic and World Championship medal winners Valerie Maltais and Marianne St-Gelais have been shaken off with Charles, fellow 20-year-old Claudia Gagnon and 18-year-old Courtney Lee Sarault stepping up confidently.
All three have contributed to a successful Ladies’ 3000m Relay team with Sarault also claiming silver in the 1500m at the season-opener in Calgary, Canada. When you add three-time PyeongChang 2018 medalist Kim Boutin and fellow Olympian Kasandra Bradette to the mix, it creates a potent combination.
Courtney Lee Sarault (CAN) and Alyson Charles (CAN) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (ITA) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
“Kim and Kasandra are our mentors, they are kind of leading the new generation,” Charles said. “Sometimes Kim gives us advice on the way we skate. And then we follow how they behave. And in the Relay we have learned a lot from them, from their experience. It helps us grow as a team.”
The results have come impressively quickly. Canada, on the back of two bronze medals, finished fourth in the Ladies’ 3000m Relay World Cup rankings this season. The mixed-gender 2000m Relay team, of which Charles has been a key part, fared even better, winning gold in Almaty, Kazakhstan and silver in Turin, Italy en route to second overall.
Charles is, perhaps unsurprisingly, loving every minute.
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Merci 2018 pour cette belle année de folie ???? J’ai fait la rencontre de personnes merveilleuses, je suis sortit de ma zone de confort à quelques reprises et j’en suis fière, j’ai un amoureux qui me rend heureuse, je suis championne du monde junior au relais avec 3 merveilleuses filles que j’adore XX???? J’ai vécu de grosses émotions autant de bonheur que de tristesse, mais j’ai la chance de faire partie d’une équipe de filles complètement malade ???? J’ai accomplis des objectifs et je suis prête à affronter l’année 2019 en force et, prête à rocker ???? MERCI
“We work really well together, we have fun on and off the ice,” she explained. “When we are at World Cups we play cards at the hotel, we do other activities all together, we go to the grocery store. We are really bonded.
“All of them in their own way can be very funny. Claudia (Gagnon) and Courtney (Sarault) are very loud but at different times.”
It is even more revealing to hear mentor Boutin’s take on the squad dynamics.
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Demain, je vais être à la Place Bell pour vous rencontrer ! @samgirardcan , @charleshamelin et toute l'équipe y seront aussi ! Passez nous voir ! ????⛸️ . @teamcanada @ssc_pvc @patinvitesseqc . . ????: Graham Hughes - La Presse canadienne . . . #speedskating #speedskatingcanada #teamcanada #vitesse
“I like being the senior, it’s another challenge but I feel we are at the same level,” she said. “They are really strong in training and they help me be strong. We are a pretty good team.”
Boutin, who won silver in the 1000m at PyeongChang 2018, duelled with Charles in the last 1000m World Cup final of the season in Turin earlier this month and she is adamant that the rookie is already a world-class racer.
Kim Boutin and Alyson Charles (CAN) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (ITA) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
“I was pretty excited to be in the final with Aly and we did a pretty good race. She is kind of the same style as me, she really likes to pull too,” Boutin said in Turin.
It has been a long season for Charles, who until this year was used to competing in just one major championships per winter. But the clear improvements in form she has seen have made her just want to “get better, improve and reach higher goals” as fast as possible.
Alyson Charles (CAN) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (USA) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
The first opportunity to hit those “higher goals” will come at next month’s ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. Less than a year ago Charles won the 3000m Relay gold at the Junior version and now she has her eye on the Senior prize.
“We know we have the potential to win,” Charles said. “Each one of us individually has strengths and weaknesses but as a team we are really strong and can aim for the A final and the podium and the win.
Alyson Charles (CAN) at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating (KAZ) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)
“It would be really amazing; it would conclude the year very nicely and reflect the effort we have put in. I would go on holiday feeling pretty happy.”
Follow Charles and her Team during the ISU World Short Track Speed Skating Championships in Sofia (BUL) from March 8 - 10 and make sure you don't miss any of the action by keeping in touch on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.