CALGARY - Brittany Schussler and Guillaume Blais-Dufour got off to a golden start on Thursday at the Canadian single distance long-track speedskating championships.
Schussler was crowned the new women's 3,000-metre champion with a time of four minutes 9.51 seconds. The Winnipeg native placed ahead of Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., who was 0.28 seconds behind. Nesbitt was the 3,000-metre champion in 2011 and 2012.
Cindy Klassen, also from Winnipeg, placed third in 4:10.02.
"The race was hard, that's a definite. The three-K (3,000 metres) is always a hard one," said the 27-year-old Schussler. "Being in the second last pair, I actually thought the ice was going to be fast today. I went for it and barely held on to it. When I was done I didn't think it was a great time. I thought it was a good time.
"To come out with win is a big confidence booster."
Added Schussler: "It's been a rough year so far and I really needed that win, and it's a good feeling. I know I'm capable of a lot more, and so are the other girls."
Barely two months after converting back to long track from the national short-track development team, Blais-Dufour took his first Canadian title, winning the 1,500 metres in 1:45.92. The native of Sherbrooke, Que., edged the 2012 Canadian champion, Mathieu Giroux.
"It's a complete surprise. I knew I had a lot of speed and that I was in good shape (in the race)," said Blais-Dufour. "I'm coming from another background, short track, which offers quite a different perspective from what we're used to in long track.
"I didn't know where I stood with the other skaters. It was my first test of the year. I am very happy how it worked out."
Giroux, from Pointe-aux-Trembles, Que., earned the silver medal in a time of 1:46.06. Regina's Lucas Makowsky was the bronze medallist for a second year in a row, finishing in a time of 1:46.32.
Denny Morrison, last year's silver medallist in the 1,500 metres and currently top ranked in Canada, is not competing in the championships. He broke the fibula bone in his left leg on Dec. 22 while cross-country skiing.