VANCOUVER — Cindy Klassen returned to competitive speedskating Sunday and immediately made her mark by clinching a spot on Canada’s World Cup team.
Klassen finished fifth in the 1,500 meters at the Canadian Fall World Cup Selection Trials in a time of two minutes 0.69 seconds.
“I’m just grateful that I qualified. It’s a bonus, coming back into skating,” said the Winnipeg native. “I didn’t know where I’d be, especially compared to anybody else.”
“It was fun just to race again, to race with these girls.”
The five-time medallist from the 2006 Olympics in Turin was in her first competition since taking last season off to recover from surgery to both knees.
The race showcased Canada depth in middle distance races. Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., who took the 500 meters in Saturday’s competition, won the 1,500 race with a new track record of 1:57.30.
“It gives me a lot of confidence going into World Cups knowing I’m still a 1,500-metre skater,” said Nesbitt of the fast time.
“Our team is so strong, especially the women in the middle distance right now. It’s the best that we’ve ever been. It’s really exciting and I hope that obviously that I win at the Olympics but it would be sweet if we could get a Canadian sweep in a few distances at least.”
Nesbitt’s race followed a race where Ottawa’s Kristina Groves and Winnipeg’s Brittany Schussler both finished under the previous lap record of 1:57.66, set by German Anni Friesinger back in March when the Richmond Oval hosted the World Single Distance Championships.
Jeremy Wotherspoon of Red Deer also picked up a spot on the Canadian World Cup team. Like Klassen, Wotherspoon is returning from a long term injury. He suffered a fractured wrist last season and was forced to miss the majority of the season.
One day after a disappointing sixth place in the 500, Wotherspoon finished in fifth in the 1,000 metres to claim the final available spot on the Canadian team in that distance.
“Today was a big step. My first lap was quite a bit faster than any of the laps I did yesterday in my races. That’s a good indicator of the kind of speed I have right now,” Wotherspoon said.
“It’s nice to make World Cups. It’s more fun to race at World Cups than doing Saturday morning training races.”
Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., won the race with a time of 1:09.91, Kyle Parrott finished second at 1:10.46 and fellow Calgary native Jamie Gregg finished in third at 1:10.53.
“I won, which is good. I would have been really disappointed had I not. The field of Canadian racers is getting quite a bit deeper now so it is getting harder for me to consistently win,” Morrison said.
“It’s the last time I’ll be racing 1,000 meters on the Olympic track so I wanted to make the most of it.”
Morrison followed that race up with a second place finish in the 5,000 meters. Regina’s Lucas Makowsky won with a time of 6:35.56 followed by Morrison at 6:37.14. Mathieu Giroux of Point-Aux-Trembles, Que., finished third with a time of 6:38.01.
The skaters get two more days at the Richmond Oval before heading to the first World Cup races in Berlin at the beginning of November. This is the final competition at the Oval before the Olympics .