Olympics-Speed skating-Dubreuil aims to end Canadian drought in men's 500m

By Sakura Murakami

BEIJING (Reuters) - Laurent Dubreuil will try to do something no Canadian has managed since the turn of the century when he bids for a spot on the podium in the men's 500m at the Beijing Games on Saturday.

The 29-year-old has not yet tasted success at an Olympics, finishing 18th four years ago in Pyeongchang, but won the men's world single distance champion title last year and holds this season's best time of 33.77 seconds.

The last time there was a Canadian medallist in the men's 500m was at Nagano 1998, when Jeremy Wotherspoon won silver and Kevin Overland bronze.

Dubreuil appeared relaxed after finishing a training session at the National Speed Skating Oval on Saturday.

"It's been good. I'm happy being here and finally being able to focus on my skating," he said, adding it was stressful trying not to catch the COVID-19 virus ahead of the Winter Games.

Born to Olympic speed skaters Robert Dubreuil and Ariane Loignon, he is currently top of the World Cup rankings but faces stiff competition from a host of strong competitors from Asia.

China's most famous speed skater Gao Tingyu will be leveraging the home ice advantage as he whizzes around the oval in front of a crowd of a few hundred local spectators.

Gao became the first Chinese man to win an Olympic medal in speed skating four years ago, when he won bronze in the men's 500m. He holds the second-best time this term of 33.83 seconds.

Japan's skaters will also be seeking to repeat the glory of the gold medal that Hiroyasu Shimizu won ahead of Wotherspoon and Overland at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

"Obviously the Japanese are really good in the 500 metres and I'm actually friends with a few of them so it's nice to compete against (them), it's like a healthy competition," Dubreuil said.

"It's fun to share moments like this with people you enjoy competing against."

Japan's lineup includes Wataru Morishige and Tatsuya Shinhama, who are second and third in the World Cup rankings respectively, as well as Yuma Murakami, who holds the season's third-best time.

(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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