CALGARY — She has dominated the World Cup speedskating circuit this season. Now Christine Nesbitt has shifted her sights on achieving success at the world all-around championships slated for Calgary’s Olympic Oval.
“It’s nice that it’s here in Calgary, especially on fast ice,” said Nesbitt, who is undefeated in the World Cup over both the 1,000 and 1,500 metres this season and was also crowned the world sprint champion last month in the Netherlands. “I think it will be an advantage for me being more on the sprint side.”
Nesbitt, of London, Ont., won gold in the 1,000 metres a year ago at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and will anchor Canada’s seven-member team.
Joining Nesbitt in the women’s competition are veteran skaters Cindy Klassen and Brittany Schussler, both of Winnipeg, along with Ottawa’s Ivanie Blondin, who will be taking part in her first world all-around championships.
“It’s just exciting,” said Klassen of being able to skate in front of a home crowd a year after the Vancouver Olympics. “Skating at the Olympics in Vancouver, I’ve never experienced anything like that before, to feel the support of the crowd, feeling all of Canada behind us. This isn’t the Olympics, but it’s as close as it can get because we’re in front of the home crowd here and family and friends can come watch.”
On the men’s side, Canada’s team will feature Lucas Makowsky and Justin Warsylewicz, both of Regina, as well as Montreal’s Mathieu Giroux.
“We have a pretty strong team coming into it,” said Makowsky, who won Olympic gold last year in men’s team pursuit with Giroux and Denny Morrison. “That’s the beauty about the all-around championships is you can be top in one distance, but then you need to put four distances together to have a really good all-around result. It’s really about putting together a good, full weekend and being able to overcome any adversity if you don’t do so well in one race.”
Although Morrison, of Fort St. John, B.C., failed to qualify for the world all-around championships, he’ll serve as a substitute in the men’s competition.
Men compete in four races over the weekend including the 500 and 1,000 metres Saturday followed by the 1,500 and 10,000 metres Sunday. Meanwhile, the women will compete in the 500 and 3,000 metres Saturday and the 1,500 and 5,000 metres Sunday.
Nesbitt gave credit to Canadian coaches Xiuli Wang and Mark Wild for helping her prepare for what will be a gruelling weekend of racing.
“My specialties are the 1,000 and the 1,500,” she said. “I’m kind of at a disadvantage in the longer distances. It’s going to be tough because I have to try and bank as much time as I can in the short distances and really hold on especially in the 5,000 metres. I know this and everybody knows that. There’s no secret. I want to see what I can do and hopefully surprise myself and surprise everyone else as well.”
Wang has confidence Nesbitt can continue to put up good results this weekend despite the absence of a 1,000-metre race.
“She’s committed and she wants to do it,” said Wang, adding Nesbitt has worked hard to train for the longer distances of 3,000 and 5,000 metres. “She never complains. I feel really lucky to coach her.”
Nesbitt admitted the 5,000 metres will definitely be her toughest task of the season.
“For me it’s mentally a really hard race because I hurt,” she said. “No matter what speed I go, what time of the year, the most amount of laps I can do without hurting is probably like five.
“It’s just all about pushing myself to the limit in the 5,000 and seeing what I can do.”
And Nesbitt has confidence that she’s up to the task.
“Of course I really hate to lose,” she said. “I’m a very competitive person.
“When it comes down to it, I want to win everything and I want to win as much as I can. There’s a big task ahead of me yet, so I can’t get ahead of myself.”
Klassen, the last Canadian woman to win the world all-around title in both 2003 and 2006, isn’t surprised with how well Nesbitt has fared this season.
“She’s just very strong and there’s no telling how fast she can get,” Klassen said. “Whenever someone on our team does well, and she’s doing so well, I think that we all feed off of that and it’s exciting and I think that it drives all of us to perform our best.”
With this being the only chance for the Canadian team to compete at home this season, the skaters are hoping to feed off of the energy of the crowd.
“It’s definitely going to be a good thing, just being able to skate in front of a home crowd again,” Makowsky said. “I hope that they’re able to carry us to some good finishes.”