Canadian speed skater thinks Russians cost him an Olympic spot

Canadian speed skater thinks Russians cost him an Olympic spot

When Canada's long track speed skating team of 10 men and nine women was announced Wednesday, there was a high level of excitement surrounding the program — Olympic dreams are alive again for many.

But for one senior member of the team, the announcement meant his Olympic dream was dashed.

Will Dutton was left off the squad. The native of Humboldt, Sask., competed in Sochi four years ago before briefly retiring from speed skating, then returning in 2015.

He's spent the last few years doing everything he can to get back into Olympic form, and he appeared to have a second consecutive Games in sight — but it all changed in a hurry.

Canada's Olympic speed skating trials were held in Calgary and wrapped up earlier this week. It was a last chance for skaters to turn in a strong performance and prove they're worthy of competing for Canada at the Games. But, as Dutton found out the hard way, qualifying for the Olympics isn't only about beating other skaters at the trials.

Dutton went into the men's 500-metre race in Calgary looking to earn one of the three Olympic spots Canada has secured in that event. He finished second.

But that wasn't good enough to send him to Pyeongchang. The reason is that Speed Skating Canada sets a qualifying time for each distance that all skaters must meet at least once during the season in order to be eligible for the Olympics. They can do this during any World Cup competition or at the trials.

Unfortunately for Dutton, his second-place time of 34.53 seconds didn't meet the qualifying standard of 34.47. As a result, he was left off the Olympic team in favour of Alex Boisvert-Lacroix, Gilmore Junio and Laurent Dubreuil. Boisvert-Lacroix won the in a time of 34.38, which meets the standard. Junio (34.55) and Dubreuil (34.58) did not see their times meet the standard, but they had done so earlier in the season, meaning Speed Skating Canada is willing to send them to South Korea next month.

But here's where it gets messy.

Hoping for a change of heart

Speed Skating Canada's Olympic qualifying standard is based on the top 16 times posted by skaters around the world. Dutton is just outside of that group at 18th.

However, he argues that two of the skaters whose times fall in the top 16 are Russians who have committed doping violations — Artyom Kuznetsov and Pavel Kulizhnikov. Dutton wants them removed, which would push him into the top 16 and into the Olympics.

He now has legal representation helping him try and sway the decision-makers at Speed Skating Canada. His lawyer has also sent letters to the Canadian Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency. A first letter to Speed Skating Canada's board of directors didn't seem to do much, says Dutton.

"We received an email back from them basically saying they weren't intending to act on our email and they would pass it on to the high performance committee and Olympic selection committee."

Speed Skating Canada declined to comment for this story.

Dutton sees his case as an opportunity for the organization to take a stand against doping, even if it means going against rules for Olympic qualification that were communicated clearly to skaters.

"I think that Speed Skating Canada has a chance to step up and show they're leaders in this space too," Dutton says. "There hasn't been any acknowledgement from them that they actually believe doping is bad. That's what it comes down to. They haven't shown any stance on it or leadership on the issue."

Dutton says the last week of his life has been anxiety-filled and stressful as he waits and hopes for a change of heart.

"I wouldn't say I have a ton of faith," he says. "The fact that Speed Skating Canada isn't standing up for me is disappointing to me. These are people I've known for many years and you trust them to do the right thing."

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