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Wotherspoon's Olympic comeback falls short

CALGARY — Red Deer native Jeremy Wotherspoon, whose comeback bid took a hit on Saturday with a sixth place in the 500 metres, chose not to compete in the 1,000 metre event of the Canadian speedskating Olympic trials Monday and has likely skated competitively for the final time.

Meanwhile, Denny Morrison was 50 metres away from a spot on the Canadian Olympic team in the 1,000 metres, but with his mind already on qualification, disaster struck.

Skating in the outer lane coming up to the finish, Morrison, from Fort St. John, B.C., clipped his skates and fell coming around the final turn on the second day of the Olympic trials for Canada’s long track team. He was given a re-skate about an hour later, but his time of one minute 09.04 only gave him the fifth fastest time, leaving him on the outside with Canada given four berths in the distance in Sochi.

“I was already thinking I’ve already qualified for the Olympics,” said Morrison, who said the re-skate was always going to be a tough task to replicate a winning performance since he was essentially skating ’on a half tank of gas.’

“I just need to coast across the line and then I fall and you lose a couple seconds or whatever.”

The result does not spell the end of Morrison’s Olympic dreams. The 1,000 metres was one of his preferred events with 23-career medals on the World Cup circuit, but he still has a chance to qualify through the 1,500 metres, another of his preferred events on Thursday.

He’s a two-time World Champion in the 1,500.

Wotherspoon found himself in third spot after the first race Saturday before falling out of contention after his second 500 metres around Calgary’s Olympic Oval track.

“In the first race I was almost the same time as guys who won medals at the world cups in the fall,” said Wotherspoon, who still holds the world record of 34.03 seconds set in Salt Lake City in 2007. “I was pretty happy to be that close. That makes it even more disappointing to have the second race that I had.”

Morrison’s loss Monday was the gain of Ottawa’s Vincent de Haitre, who skated the race of his life in taking about half a second off his previous personal best to win with a time of 1:08.37. At just 19-years-old, de Haitre is now the national champion in the 1,000 metres in long-track speed skating and in the 1,000 metre time trial (called the Kilo) in track cycling.

Quebec City’s Muncef Ouardi finished in second place (1:08.78), Gilmore Junio of Calgary was third (1:08.87) and William Dutton of Humbolt, Sask., finished in fourth (1:08.94).

Canada’s Olympic long-track speedskating team will consist of 10 women and eight men in all disciplines and will be announced on Jan. 22.

In the women’s 1,000 metres, Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., won her second distance of the trials. After winning the 500 metres on Saturday, Nesbitt won the 1,000 in a time of 1:14.19.

Wotherspoon’s brother-in-law Jamie Gregg, from Edmonton, finished first in the men’s 500 metres with a combined two-race time of 69.15.

Finishing in the second, third and fourth spots respectively were Calgary’s Gilmore Junio (69.31 seconds), William Dutton of Humbolt, Sask. (69.38) and Quebec City’s Muncef Ouardi (69.41).

In the women’s 500 metres, Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., finished first with a two-race time of 76.45 seconds.

“This definitely makes me feel good about things,” said Nesbitt, who will also compete on Monday in the women’s 1,000 metres and on Thursday in the 1,500 metres. “Of course, I still have two more distances I’d like to qualify in, my best distances, so I’ll see how those go.”

Rounding out the top four were Marsha Hudey of White City, Sask. (76.91 seconds), Calgary’s Anastasia Bucsis (76.93) and Red Deer’s Danielle Wotherspoon-Gregg (77.08), who his Wotherspoon’s sister and is married to Gregg.

Also on Saturday, Winnipeg’s Brittany Schussler won in the women’s 3,000 metres, while Mathieu Giroux of Point-aux-Trembles, Que., finished first in the men’s 5,000 metres to virtually earn themselves spots at the Winter Olympics.

 
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