Denny Morrison likes to keep tabs on his speedskating rivals and what he saw last weekend at the season’s first long-track World Cup left him scratching his head.
The Dutch skaters are usually a force to be reckoned with but weren’t, and he wonders if they have a trick up their collective sleeves so they peak right in time for the Vancouver Olympics.
That’s obviously the goal for all winter athletes in the leadup to the 2010 Games, and everyone pretty much has a different approach on how to get there.
“It’s like (Canadian teammate Kristina) Groves has told me, you don’t want to feel your best at this time of year, you want to feel your best at the Olympics,” said Morrison.
“The people I’m worrying about right now are actually the Dutch, because it’s sort of like they’ve figured something out. Instead of just racing their brains out early in the season and blowing up for world championships, maybe they’re saving something for the Olympics.
“I guess we’ll see.”
Another tell-tale sign will come this weekend at the second World Cup stop in Heerenveen, Netherlands. Speed Skating Canada is sending 24 athletes to the event including sprinter Mike Ireland of Winnipeg, who returns to international competition for the first time since dislocating his left shoulder last November.
Cindy Klassen also continues her comeback from surgery on both knees, with the Winnipeg native scheduled to race in the 1,000, 1,500, 3,000 and team pursuit.
Jeremy Wotherspoon of Red Deer, working his way back from a broken arm suffered at the same World Cup in which Ireland was injured, won’t compete at the event after deciding to only skate in the North American meets.
The Canadians got off to a good start last weekend in Berlin, where Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., won gold in both the 1,000 and 1,500 while bronze medals were claimed by Brittany Schussler of Winnipeg in the 1,500 and Morrison in the men’s 1,500.
It was after the 1,500 that the Fort St. John, B.C., native started wondering what exactly the Dutch were up to.
“It’s just strange to see someone like Sven Kramer, who has done so well in the 1,500 in the past, not even qualify for the team, whereas someone like Rhian Ket, who won the Dutch trials in the 1,500, usually doesn’t even qualify,” said Morrison. “You see Erben Wennemars out there skating and just not going fast. I’m not sure what’s up with that, if they’re just freaking out or what.
“I expect Sven to be in top form for the Olympics, rather than maybe doing well early on like he usually does.”
Another surprise for him was that American Trevor Marsicano, a triple-medallist at the world single distance championships in Richmond, B.C., last spring, was 15th in the 1,000 and 17th in the 1,500 in Berlin.
“I don’t know if that’s just because he’s planning on ramping it up again or what,” said Morrison. “I watched him skate, it just looks like he isn’t getting any love out of his pushes. Who knows what can happen? A lot can change over the season.”
That’s usually the case for Morrison, whose bronze came on the heels of a sixth-place effort in the 1,000. He struggled early last season before finishing strong and feels that’s par for the course with him.
“The first competition of the season for me is always sort of a heartbreaker, I guess, because . . . I feel like I’m fast, I feel fit and I feel comfortable in my skates, mentally prepared then I go into a race feeling all these great things and I’m finally against a real fast pair and I get tight and I get anxious,” he said.
“Certain things about heading into international competition just test me a bit more and show me what else I have to learn and have to improve on.”
That’s how Speed Skating Canada is looking at the opening World Cup events, too. Aside from Ireland, fellow sprinters Jamie Gregg of Edmonton and Kyle Parrott of St. Albert, are also making their debuts, the latter two skating in the 1,000, as well as the 500.
“It will be interesting where those guys lay their stake in the sand,” said Brian Rahill, Speed Skating Canada’s director of sport.