LAKE PLACID, NEW YORK – The Lake Placid speed skating oval glimmered in the glistening sun for the opening day of the Lake Placid 2023 University Games speed skating competition, and Canadians hit their stride on the outdoor ice.
Yet it will be the bronze medal of David La Rue that shines forever brighter, as the Laval Rouge et Or student-athlete skated to third place in the men’s 1000m with a time of 1:12.57, leading a Canadian team that landed all four skaters in the top 10.
When he got to the line, he looked up, glanced at the mountains, and skated to bronze, Canada’s second medal of the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games.
“I was like, wow, this is an incredible opportunity to skate here,” he said.
The Longueuil, Quebec native skated in the second to last pair of the day, entering the event as one of the highest-ranked skaters alongside Japan’s Taiyo Nonomura, who has 18 ISU World Cup starts to his name.
With the win, the 24-year-old Canadian halted Japan’s podium sweep, with Kazuya Yamada taking the gold medal in a time of 1:12.38 and Nonamura, his lap pattern, taking silver.
“We’re not used to skating outside, so I wasn’t even noticing the times, so for me, the times don’t mean anything,” he said, racing in Lake Placid’s frigid Sunday temperatures. “I was just focusing on my key points, and I executed my race according to the plan.”
There’s a unique element to speed skating at the FISU Games — with long track not among the compulsory sports. In its 12th appearance at the World University Games, countries send many Olympic hopefuls, even the Canadians.
La Rue entered the Games as a medal hopeful, but moreso in the 1500m. In his final year of eligibility for the FISU event, he came into the Lake Placid races as one of Canada’s most experienced athletes, already having a World Junior Championship title in the mass start and a silver medal in the 1500m.
In addition to his World Junior Championship medals, La Rue has 15 World Cup starts, including three podiums in the team sprints. However, he hadn’t skated on the top level since the 2019-20 season in Nagano, Japan.
“There were a lot of good athletes; the best team from Japan was here, so it’s exciting,” La Rue told 49 Spots. “It’s a good start to the competition, and I think I can even do better in the 1500m.”
Earlier this season, he won gold in the team sprint at the ISU Four Continents Speed Skating Championships 2023, alongside Chris Fiola and Beijing 2022 Olympic medalist Laurent Dubreuil.
In Lake Placid, however, there’s an added exceptionalism, with the outdoor oval built for the 1932 Olympic Games and used again at the 1980 Games, where American Eric Heiden wrote his name among U.S. Olympic folklore.
“I have a day off tomorrow; I’ll take some time off to relax and see some other sports and then just follow my game plan and head into the 1500m and do as well as I could.
Claiming the top-10
La Rue wasn’t the only positive Canadian performance in the event, with Thompson Rivers University’s Joshua Telizyn finishing eighth and Laval’s Hubert Marcotte ninth. At the same time, Calgary’s Frank Roth rounded off the men’s event in 10th place.
Looking ahead to the 1500m, there’s a beaming positivity among the Canadian men’s group as they look to bring more medals to the Canadian group in distance events that more suit their skillset.
Rose-Anne Grenier leads the Canadian women
Laval’s speed skating prowess continued to show on the women’s side, as Rose-Anne Grenier skated the women’s 1000m in a time of 1:24,97, leading the four-woman Canadian contingent with a 13th-place finish.
Meanwhile, Laura Hall of the University of Calgary finished in behind, crossing the line in 1:25.31, good for 15th place. At the same time, her Calgary teammate Anne Bourgeois finished in 18th, looking ahead to other races.
Bourgeois took on the 1000m race as prep for the longer distances in the 1500m and 3000m, wanting to get used to racing outside ahead of the upcoming FISU races and domestic outdoor competition.
“I think it will pay off in the next races,” she told 49 Sports. “It’s nice coming here to get used to skating outside because we haven’t done that in years… I’m trying to get the most out of this experience.”
Rounding off the Canadian results was Laurie Cayer, finishing 30th in a time of 1:28.33
Canadian skating party?
The Canadian skaters at the Lake Placid FISU Games are among those with the most Olympic and World Cup potential. With skating on each remaining day of competition, it could turn into a skating party of medals for the Canadians on the ice.
It’s the endurance races next on the schedule, with the women’s 3000m and men’s 5000m set for Monday morning at 9:30 am ET, before the long track competitions continue with the 1500m, 500m, team pursuit, mass start and relays.