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Thompson and Ciulini cap off speedskating season on a high
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In sport, finishing off one season with some successful results can often lead to a springboard into the following campaign.

In that sense, several members of the Sudbury Sprinters are very well positioned to take the next step come the fall.

Less than six months into her speedskating career, 12 year old Mercia Thompson earned the right to compete at the 2024 Canadian East Youth Short Track Championships in Rimouski (PQ) last weekend.

And for as much as the eldest of two sisters with the local club (11 year-old sibling Simone also joined the Sprinters last fall) recognized that her very rapid climb up the learning curve would flatten out over time, Thompson did not see that as too much of a negative, even prior to establishing new PBs (personal best times) in all three distances that she raced in Quebec (400m/800m/1500m).

"This reminds me of the same thing that my tennis coach would say: at the beginning, you improve a lot and then you start to improve more slowly," noted Mercia, a grade 7 student at Marymount Academy.

Having experienced the same phenomenon in a pair of other sports clearly prepared Thompson for what was to come.

"I reached that point of just slowly building in both tennis and figure skating, so I'm kind of used to getting to that point," she said. "It's actually a better thing when you hit that block and don't improve really fast because then you focus on what you really need to fix."

Thompson would post best times of 47.978 (400m), 1:38.858 (800m) and 3:23.327 (1500m) at the Canadian East event, though it is in the shortest of the distances where she currently feels most at ease.

"At the end of most races, I usually feel like I could have done more," suggested Thompson. "But because the 400m is all-out sprinting and you're going so fast, I don't feel like I could have done more."

As for the weekend itself, Thompson noted in an email to club officials how thankful she was for the opportunity to mingle with and learn from other skaters, coaches and race officials, as well as partaking in the off-ice games and gatherings that allowed her to create new friends from across the country.

Eighteen year-old Curtis Ciulini is at a whole different stage in his skating career, graduating from Lockerby Composite this summer and heading to Cambrian College in the fall - a decision that allows him to continue with the Sudbury Sprinters come October.

When Ciulini does return to the ice, he will do so as a provincial silver medallist, finishing second in the overall aggregate results within his particular grouping (aggregate included 500m/777m/1000/1500m) last month.

"I am probably most proud this year of my performance in Kingston (at provincials)," said Ciulini recently. "I think that was probably my happiest moment."

In earning his first ever medal at the all-Ontario showdown, the second year skater drew on lessons learned at one particular meet earlier in the year.

"One thing I learned in my first meet in London was that I was very nervous - but as an athlete, you can't think about that," he said. "You just have to focus on your technique rather than what they (other racers) are doing."

And much like Thompson, self-improvement is one of the keys for Ciulini.

"One thing that I was most proud of was beating a lot of my PBs," he said. "From the time I was in London, the coaches have really helped me excel a lot - helped me with pointers and a lot of things."

"I'm grateful for them helping me with that."

Because now he and Thompson and many of their clubmates can carry that into the 2024-2025 speedskating season.

Northern Hockey Academy