It’s rare that a 16-year old would make the National Junior Speed Skating Team, but Dawson Creek’s Jacob Graham has as good a chance as any entering this weekend’s Canadian Single Distances Championships/Canada Cup 2 in Calgary, Alberta, Jan. 3 to 6.
At his age, Graham is one of the fastest long-track sprinters in the world but he is no shoe-in for the national team as he will be up against Canada’s best junior skaters, who do have experience and age on him.
“He has hopes to do well,” said coach Richard Stickel of the Fort St. John Elks who trains Graham alongside former national team member Jay Morrison.
“I look at his age and he has opportunities to do well yet, but this is a big one for him,” added Stickel concerning the Canadian Championships being Graham’s first opportunity at cracking the national squad.
Typically the Canadian junior team selects four skaters to go to the World Championships in February choosing the top overall skaters from the Canadian Championships. Junior skaters (18 and under) compete in the 500 -, 1,000 -, 1,500 - and 3,000 metre distances; their accumulated scores from the four races are used to determine national team qualifiers.
Graham’s strength in the 500 and 1,000m make him a contender, but cracking the national team roster will depend on how he does in the longer distances, and of course how his competition fares.
“There’s definitely a possibility for him. There are a couple of really good sprinters but Jacob is right there with them,” said Stickel.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on him but he’s definitely got a shot.”
Among Canadian juniors, Graham has posted the third fastest time of the season in both the 500 and 1,000m. His 36.64 at the International Skating Union (ISU) Junior World Cup in November was the second best 500m time in the country, before Ontario’s Vincent DeHaître posted a 36.40 at the Time Trials two weeks ago in Calgary, knocking Graham to third.
Hewson Elliot of Manitoba holds the second fastest time after he clocked a 36.51 at the World Cup; both he and DeHaître are two years older than Graham whose 36.64 is the second fastest in the world for a 16-year old this season.
In the 1,000m standings, Graham is two spots back of DeHaître, who posted a 1:11.33 at the World Cup, finishing one second ahead of Graham.
But in the longer distances Graham drops out of the rankings, which may limit his shot at making the national squad. His best 1,500 and 3,000m times this season place him 20th in Canada in both categories.
“He’s [Graham] very good at both the 500 and 1,000 but he is making improvements at his 1,500 and 3,00 as well, so I think he could be do well at those. It’s just a matter of getting more experience,” noted Stickel. “He knows what he wants and he works very hard. He continually makes improvements.”
“I don’t want to put unrealistic expectations on him but I think he’s got a real shot and I told him that,” added Stickel. “Whatever happens it’s going to be a great experience for him, an opportunity for him to get a sense of a pressure-packed event.”