World record? Bean there, done that

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 2:33 PM ET

Nicolas Bean isn't exactly taking baby steps onto the international stage in short-track speed skating.

The 18-year-old from Gloucester rings in the new year with an appearance at the world junior championships in Miercurea-Ciuc, Romania. It will be his international debut in the sport.

"That's definitely a big one to jump into it," Bean said with a chuckle from his residence in Montreal, where he moved in August to train at one of Speed Skating Canada's regional centres for short-track.

Bean, who represents the Gloucester Concordes, sent a rather loud message across the pond at the Canadian world junior team trials two weekends ago in Calgary. Winning the overall men's title -- which earned him one of three Canadian men's tickets to the world juniors -- was a major surprise in itself.

"It pretty much all happened fast," Bean said. "It's still sinking in. It's been a couple of weeks now and I'm still pretty excited about it."

OPENED EYES

But it was his result in the super 1,500-metre final -- a world-record time of 2:12.702 -- that opened even more eyes. The old mark (2:13.340) belonged to South Korea's Ho-Suk Lee.

Bean's time, a personal best by about 31/2 seconds, isn't far off the world senior record, either (2:10.639, set two years ago by Korean Hyun-Soo Ahan).

Even two weeks later, Bean is still trying to wrap his thoughts around it all.

"It's feels pretty crazy. It feels bizarre," Bean said as he contemplated being the fastest junior on the planet in the 1,500. "Before, when I was young, if I was the fastest in Ontario, I'd break an Ontario record. If I was the fastest in Canada, I'd break a Canadian record.

"But fastest in the world? That's a whole different ballgame."

Bean credits his move to Montreal with being the big difference maker for him. His training partners there include two other skaters who set world junior records in Calgary -- Joel Mineau (500 metres) and Francois Hamelin (1,000).

"It makes a huge difference," said Bean, who's also studying mechanical engineering at Ecole Polytechnique, a branch of the University of Montreal.

Marc Gagnon, one of Canada's most decorated Olympians, has been Bean's long-time idol. He'd like to hit the big stage himself one day, and is targeting the Vancouver 2010 Games.

"That's the ultimate goal, to be at the Olympics in Vancouver," he said. "But it's one step at a time. (Making the world junior team) is the first step."

Speed Skating Canada's Roch Pilon believes Bean and another teen sensation from the Concordes, Ivanie Blondin, are well positioned to make a run at Vancouver.

Blondin barely missed the world junior team -- a fall in the women's super 1,500 cost her a spot -- but stunned everyone at the senior national trials in Edmonton last weekend by finishing second overall. The 15-year-old from Orleans won the opening 1,500 metres at the first of two national team trials (the second is in March).

"They certainly have the potential (to reach Vancouver), if they continue to progress," said Pilon. "But in short-track, anything can happen. That's what makes the sport so unpredictable and so attractive to spectators."

And to talented young prospects such as Bean, who chose short-track over first hockey, then the long track.

"You get to race against other people," he said. "In long track, it's just you against the clock."

SHOOTING FOR TOP EIGHT

In Romania, Bean will compete in the 500, 1,000, 1,500 and 3,000 metres, along with the relay -- the latter event one which he thinks Canada is medal worthy.

"I'm more excited than anything," said Bean, who'd like to make the top eight in one of the individual events. "I just want to prove myself and make my mark in international territory."

He's picked quite the place to start.

WAVING THE FLAG: Gatineau's Valerie Marcoux has been selected to carry the Quebec section's flag during the Jan. 11 opening ceremony at the BMO Financial Group Canadian championships at the Civic Centre. Brooke Paulin of the Nepean Skating Club, an entrant in the junior women's event, is the Eastern Ontario section's choice. Marcoux and partner Craig Buntin of Kelowna, B.C., will be aiming for their third straight national senior pairs title -- and an Olympic team berth -- at the event, which runs Jan. 9-15.

AROUND THE AMATEUR SCENE: Gatineau's Marie-Chantal Patry-Proulx was one of the top scorers for the Canadian junior women's water polo team at the Hungarian International tournament last week. Patry-Proulx had five goals in round-robin play for Canada, which went 0-5 against senior club teams from Hungary, Greece and the Netherlands. Ottawa's Valerie Lessard netted a pair of goals.

rob.brodie@ott.sunpub.com


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