Ireland's new star

CAMERON MAXWELL -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:11 AM ET

National team speed skating sprint coach Sean Ireland has coached some of the best in the world, including Catriona Le May Doan.

Right now, he's helping mould Sarah Smith. And while she may be a relative unknown on the international scene, the 25-year-old from Medicine Hat has all the prerequisites for international success.

"In terms of her quickness and power, she's right up there with the best in the world," noted Ireland yesterday at the Olympic Oval after Smith locked up a spot on the fall World Cup team.

"She can jump as high as Catriona and she's got the same power ... it's just a matter of fine-tuning her technique and transferring her power into speed."

Smith was first in yesterday's team trials, with races of 39.96 seconds and 40.03 for a total of 79.990 seconds -- a full second ahead of Red Deer's Danielle Wotherspoon, who finished second and also locked up a berth on the team.

Winnipeg's Shannon Rempel, Regina's Kim Weger and Lloydminster, Sask.'s Krisy Myers were all prequalified in the 500.

For Smith, her times didn't touch her personal best of 39.30 but she's still faster at this time than she was last year.

"I had kind of my breakthrough season two years ago, then last season was a learning experience for me when I skated in a couple of World Cups, which was a real eye-opener for me," said Smith, who holds a bachelor of science degree from the U of C.

"Today, my coach told me to be aggressive and that's what I was trying to do.

"I've been working on my start and I was trying to get a fast start today."

Speaking of starts, Smith was competitive in short track but switched over in 1997 because her coach at the time figured she'd be better on the long track. Plus, she didn't want to move to Montreal, where the short track team is based.

Last year, Smith made her World Cup debut, skating B races in Calgary and Salt Lake City, and is looking to improve again this season.

"Last year was a learning experience for me and I want to pick it up this season," she said.

In the men's 500 qualifer, Calgary's Mark Nielsen, back from a knee injury, clocked first in the two races with a combined time of 1:11.810 seconds. Winnipeg's Sterling Sobczak was second in 1:12.570 and Brock Miron of Calgary came third in 1:12.660.

Red Deer's Jeremy Wotherspoon, the 500m world champion, and Winnipeg's James Monson were pre-qualified.

Another Winnipegger -- Mike Ireland -- gave up his spot because of an injury, which gave Miron his position.

The first sprint world cup of the season goes Dec. 4-5 in Nagano, Japan.

The men's and women's 1,000m World Cup qualifer goes today at the Oval, starting at 1 p.m.


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