Dawson Creek speedskaters Braden Clouthier and Jacob Graham are off to the Canadian Junior Championships in Québec City, Que., where the two will compete for a long-track national title.
Both head to la belle province, today, with their sights set on making the podium; and with the season they’ve hard so far neither skater feels they are out of reach of a medal.
Clouthier, 18, who now trains in Calgary, Alta. while attending university, is coming off a fourth-place overall finish at the national team trials, while racing against many of the same skaters he’ll line up against in Québec.
“I’m hoping to do a little bit better at this meet than I did at the junior world trials (Canada Cup 2),” he said on Tuesday, by hone, while in between classes at the University of Calgary campus.
“I want to medal in at least one distance; we’ll see how it goes.”
At last year’s nationals in Saskatoon, Sask., Clouthier finished 10th in the all-around division, which combines scores from the 500-, 1,000-, 1,500-, 3,000- and 5,000m races.
He said that having placed so high at the junior trials earlier this season is a good measuring stick for the Junior Championships. Clouthier added that having the opportunity to train in Calgary – Canada’s speedskating Mecca – with other elite skaters has improved his game ten-fold.
“It’s been really awesome. Definitely a big change coming from a small town and not having much training opportunities, and then to come here [Calgary] and have everything all of a sudden,” said the first-year kinesiology major.
“It’s been a huge change in all my distances. Especially my longer ones I’ve done way better this year.”
At Canada Cup 2 in January, Clouthier set personal bests in the 500-, 3,000- and 5,000m distances.
As for Graham, a Grade 11 student at Dawson Creek Secondary School who trains with the Fort St. John Elks Speedskating Club, he also hopes to improve on last year’s placing at the Canadian Championships after finishing fourth overall in the sprint-division as a 15-year old last season.
“I did pretty good last year so hopefully I can get a podium finish this year,” he said while trackside at the B.C. Long Track Provincials in Fort St. John on the weekend.
Graham raced in two events at the B.C. finals to keep his legs warm for the Junior Championships.
“I still treated it as if I would for any race, it was just physically and mentally to prepare myself [for Quebec],” he said.
Graham, who narrowly missed qualifying to compete for the national team at the 2013 World Championships in Italy said the pressure is now off, and looks forward to just skating his best.
“I already missed out on the Jr. World Trials so there’s nothing huge that I really have to do this year, so I’m just going to go there and have fun with it and do the best I can.
Graham’s coach, Richard Stickel, said Jacob looked in top form at provincials and should place in the top of the field at Juniors.
“I think he’ll do well there [Québec],” said Stickel, who noted that Graham is being recognized as one of the fastest young skaters around, which can only help him improve moving forward.
“He just needs to skate lots at this level now,” he said. “It’s a brand new thing being really, really good and he’s not surprising anyone anymore. He’s going there and they know who he is, so it’s good to go there and skate and have expectations of yourself.”
The Junior Championships begin Friday at the Gaetan-Boucher National Centre with final races scheduled for Sunday.