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Former short track speed skater Gilmore Junio successful at first long track World Cups

Short track speed skating had always been Gilmore Junio’s main focus, and long track was just something he did on the side. That was until a serious injury took him out, two weeks prior to the competition he had been working towards to for a very long time. Looking for a safer way to train and skate, Junio then turned to long track, which last October resulted in qualification for the Canadian long track World Cup team for the first time in his career. Back home in Calgary after having competed in Europe and Asia, Junio reflects on his first World Cup experiences and his switch from short track to long track.

By Jolanda Abbes

How do you look back in general on your first World Cup experiences?
”My first World Cup experience was amazing; the cities, the skating and the people that I met, made the trip very memorable. Over the four cities I had the chance to learn a lot, good and bad, the next step now for me is to take what I learnt from my experience and use it to get better.”

What would you consider to be the highlight and greatest disappointment of the Fall World Cups?
“The biggest highlight would have to be stepping onto the podium in Heerenveen. The whole experience of getting onto the podium and hearing my name be called was exhilarating. I also knew that I was standing on that podium with two other really good skaters. The most disappointing thing for me would have had to be slipping in my second 500m race in Changchun, China. It was a wrong stride that unfortunately cost me in a race that I know I had the ability to win but that is the way our sport goes sometimes. You just have to take what you can from a race like that and think about the things that went right and not so much about what could’ve been.”

You finished third in the B division 500m in your very first World Cup race, in Heerenveen. Can you give a full analysis of that race?
“To be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot from the race, it all seemed to happen so fast. I remember being really nervous; I was the last pair and I had seen the great times the other skaters had already put up and then as they called my name, I stepped to the line. With all the nerves and adrenalin building in my body as the starter called us to the line, I was shaking and even in my down start I could feel quivers in my arms and legs. But once the gun went, all that nervousness went away. On the front stretch I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t falling behind, after the first hundred meters most of the race is a blur. I remember coming up to that last fifty meters and having my pair right beside me and thinking ‘Just like short track, shoot the line!’, and it was the big lunge at the end that put me just ahead of my pair and got me on the podium.”

What would you consider to be the most important thing you’ve learned from these Fall World Cups?
“I think the most important thing that I learned from my first World Cups is that I still have a lot to learn. The most important thing that I need to work on is how to be adaptable and flexible to different environments and different aspects of race preparation. It’s a new feeling, racing in an environment that isn’t comfortable to me, it is something that I will get used to with the more traveling and competing I do on the world stage.”

Can you share a good story on your first World Cup experiences?
“There are a lot of good stories and things that I’ll remember from this trip, so it’s really hard to just pick one. But I would have to say the coolest thing I saw/experienced would definitely have to be that Sunday in Heerenveen when Bob de Jong won the 5k. He was down by maybe 3 seconds at one point but with maybe 5 laps to go we saw his split start decreasing and everyone started to stir. Lap by lap you saw Bob’s time getting closer and closer to the lead and every time a split would show, everyone cheered and I remember some guy behind us just going nuts, yelling ‘GO BOB!’ ‘COME ON BOB!’ ‘LET’S GO BOB!’ With one lap to go, his split time was just off the lead and as he came around the last turn, everyone knew he had got it and the rink got loud and people started to stand and clap and he crossed the line and raised his hands. The biggest applause I’ve ever heard, filled the rink. There were people jumping up and down and as we started to leave the rink, the band was playing and everyone was singing Bob’s name; it was definitely the best skating environment that I had ever been a part of and it was a privilege to experience it first hand.”

How do you compare these senior World Cups to when you were still a junior?
“It’s a completely different stage I think. Everything is so different and you have to be able to adapt to the new environments much quicker. It is definitely easy to get overwhelmed with which skaters are there, what group you’re in, what the crowd is like and you have to be able to deal with that. Luckily, I had the experience of going to the Junior Worlds prior, but that only gave me a small glimpse of what it is like to compete on the international stage.”

What would you consider to be the highlight of your junior career?
“My junior career highlight would definitely be making the Canadian junior team and going to the Junior World Championships in Moscow. It was my first big international competition and traveling that far, with the team we had, made the whole experience a good one. I also think what made it so much more special for me was the way I did it; coming back from an injury which resulted in the massive disappointment of not making the short track junior world team, I think it really made me appreciate everything way more.”

Can you elaborate on your switch from short track to long track?
“Junior Worlds Short Track had always been the main goal since 2007 and everything, and I stress everything, I did was geared towards making that team. Long track was just something that I did either for training or just for fun. But going into the 2009-2010 season, a lot of people had touted me as one of the favourites to make the short track team. Two weeks prior to the Junior Championships, during a qualifying meet, I was taken out and suffered two fractured vertebrae, pretty much ending any chance of me making the junior team. So after that I turned to long track looking for a safer way to skate and train. Having seen the success of Guillame Blais-Dufor in both short track and long track the year prior it gave me some hope and motivation that maybe I could do that too. The plan was always to skate the long track junior trials just for the experience and to say I tried, but the month leading into those trials I really began to enjoy long track more and took the whole experience pretty seriously and it paid off in the end. I went to Junior Worlds and did pretty well there, and at that point long track started to seem like a viable option. Fortunately in the spring I was named to the long track national development team. I still kept in touch with short track and trained through the summer with the Calgary-based short track national team athletes. It wasn’t until around September that I decided that I would devote the year to skating long track and see where it would take me. I’m pretty happy with how it’s worked out so far but there is still a lot to learn and I’m excited to do so.”

Who do you consider to be your example(s) in speed skating?
“There are so many skaters to look at as examples, Jeremy Wotherspoon would be one of them. Wotherspoon is a very decorated athlete and holds an amazing world record. It is hard not to look at him and not want exactly what he was able to achieve. Canadian short tracker Michael Gilday is the person in my life who I try to emulate on a day-to-day basis while training at the Olympic Oval. His dedication to the sport and to training is outstanding. With more experience under his belt, it won’t be long until he starts dominating the short track world stage. Gilday’s training habits are definitely something that I look up to as an example.”

How do you look forward to the rest of the season and to the Canadian Single Distances Championships in particular?
"With how the first half of my season went, I don’t really know what to expect from the rest of season. I think heading into the championships, the main goal will be to, and I know it sounds cliché, but skate my best and improve every day. No matter the result of the Single Distances Championships, I look at the rest of the season as a win-win. I could be heading back on the road and gaining more experience on the international circuit or have the opportunity to train and improve myself in a great environment here in Calgary.”

 Photo credits: DESGphoto/Lars Hagen