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Maltese and Blondin skate one-punch speed for Canada at world championships

Maltese and Blondin skate one-punch speed for Canada at world championships

The mass start is relatively new in a tradition-bound sport, bringing short-track maneuvering and competition to a 16-lap, head-to-head race that includes intermediate sprints for points.

Ottawa's Blondin is a two-time world champion and an Olympic silver medalist in Beijing in 2022.

The dynamic of teamwork emerged in the collective beginning. One skater works in the service of another skater – much like housecycling – to run the overlap, chase down breakaways, and provide the body to pull from behind.

Maltese, from Saguenay, Que., performed that service for Blondin's team in Beijing, but has elected to operate on his own during the 2022-23 season. Malta proposed a more equal partnership last year.

“This season is the first year we've really worked together,” Maltese said. “Before that, I was working for Ivany, and after the games, we would each do our own thing. I didn't enjoy doing that.

He added: “At the end of the season last year… I said: My wish is for us to work together.” Not I work for you or you work for me. But we are working together to beat the Dutch. I believe we can do it. And if we don't do that, I don't think I want to do any mass starts anymore. I don't enjoy going alone against other girls.

“We're both strong skaters, we're smart and we're agile on the ice. I was like 'we can work together'. I think we've proven that this season. It's worked out for most of the races.”

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Both 33-year-old women come from short track backgrounds. The duo has finished in the top four in three of six races this season.

Blondin had two World Cup victories and two second-place finishes, but was ruled out of the December race in Norway.

Malta reached the top six in five races, including three podium finishes, to win the season title.

Blondin's first-place finish and Maltese's third-place finish in Salt Lake City was an example of how a partnership can put both in medal contention in the final race when it's every woman for herself.

They worked together to put themselves behind Dutchwomen Marijke Groeneod and Irene Schouten heading into the lap of the bell.

Sharing tactics benefits both, Blondin says. She and Maltese discuss plans for different scenarios for the mass start in advance.

“The other girls look at us and think: 'Shoot, they're working together,'” Blondin said. “I wasn't opposed to it whatever it was. I was looking forward to it because there were years where we were racing and we didn't work together and that was just a big disadvantage.

“All the other teams, especially the Dutch girls, are in the race and they don't care who gets on the podium at the end of the race as long as there's one. They work together flawlessly.

Maltese and Blondin compete in the women's 3,000 meters to open the world championships on Thursday. Canada is a podium contender in the men's and women's team sprints as is Calgary's Ted Jan Plomin in the men's 5K that day.

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Olympic champions Malta, Blondin and Ottawa's Isabelle Weidman will attempt to defend their world title in the women's team pursuit on Friday, when sprinter Laurent Dubreuil of Lévis, Que., and American Jordan Stolz renew their rivalry in the men's 500 metres.

Mass and the men's and women's 1,000-meter race begin on Saturday. The event concludes on Sunday with the men's and women's 1,500 metres, women's 5 km and men's 10 km.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 14, 2024.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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