Jeremy Wotherspoon has never been able to get rid of that nagging feeling that he left something behind when he officially retired from speedskating following the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games.
“It was always in the back of my mind,” said the 37-year-old from Red Deer, who now lives in Inzell, Germany, where he coaches speedskating.
“My boss here knew (the feeling) was there but I thought I could just forget about it … get it out of my head. But a while after we first talked, he asked if it was still in my mind and when I said yes, he said we could arrange things so I could do it and then move on.”
But moving on wasn’t the main reason for the best male World Cup sprinter of all time to want to come back and try to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
“I just didn’t want to regret not doing it,” he said from Germany, where he’s in his third season with the Kia Speed Skating Academy. “I just didn’t feel totally satisfied the way the 2010 Games finished. Not the results, but I felt like I didn’t finish where I wanted to be. I had a tough year before Vancouver when I broke my arm. I was on the way up, but not where I needed or wanted to be. Because of that, I didn’t feel satisfied.
“I want to go out satisfied with the effort I put in and know I did my best, then I’ll be happy and done as an athlete.”
The odds would seem to be against the member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame making the Canadian Olympic team.
But there are four spots available in the 500 metres and he was less than a second back from fourth place in the Canadian World Cup qualifying in Calgary in October.
And he has a unsurpassed track record in the sport.
Wotherspoon grew up competing for the Red Deer Central Lions Speed Skating Club and was recognized early on by the national program as a special talent.
He started training with the national team at age 17 and by 1997 was winning regularly on the World Cup circuit.
In 2003, he won his 49th World Cup race, the most in history. He finished with a record 67 victories, four World Cup sprint titles and was named the Canada Speed Skating male athlete of the year nine times. The award is now named after him.
And now he hopes for a new chapter.
“I was a few spots back (11th in Calgary in October), but in terms of time I wasn’t that far back and I’ve made positive strides since,” he said. “I had a few lane change problems there, but I know if things go smoothly it’s within my reach.
“If not, then I’d know by the time the Olympics came around I wouldn’t be where I wanted to be anyway.” (The games open in Russia on Feb. 7.)
Wotherspoon returned to Inzell after the World Cup qualifying meet and put together a training program that has seen him improve his performance.
“I’ve been constantly improving,” he said. ‘There’s ups and downs every day, but I have a good handle on where I am and where I need to improve.
“During the summer, it was hard to know exactly where I needed to be and where I was at, but now that I’ve been on the ice for a few months and racing, I have a much better idea on what things I need to work on … where there should be more focus.”
Wotherspoon still holds the world record of 34.03 seconds in the 500 metres, set in 2007, and he understands exactly what he needs to do to be among the elite again.
“The biggest thing is to continue to increase my comfort level and race intensity,” he said. “It’s something that’s hard for everyone and hard for me — I’ve been out of racing for a few years. But I’m focusing on that and focusing on a few specific technical areas.
“But I do see an improvement after my first month of racing.
“I was able to make a few changes in the weight room and found specific areas I needed to improve on, things that helped me get back into racing, and making some little things more automatic.”
Wotherspoon has been involved in training races in Europe and hopes to have one more race at home after returning to Calgary on Dec. 16.
The Olympic qualifying meet is set for Dec. 28 to Jan. 3 at the Olympic Oval in Calgary.
He hopes those last few races help him find those final fractions of seconds needed to make the Canadian team.
“I’m working on that final three per cent of speed and feeling comfortable at speed. It’s coming, compared to how I felt a month ago.”
Wotherspoon’s sister, Danielle, is also a member of the Canadian team and has a good shot at competing in Sochi.
“She’s done well and has a shot at going. She consistently finds a way to go faster and that’s great motivation for me. That would be a great experience to do it together.”
Even if he doesn’t make the Canadian team, Wotherspoon believes the training and battle to come back will still benefit him down the road.
“It’s been an interesting process and will only help me as a coach., That’s one of the things you don’t think about at the beginning. But now I have a good insight into the whole process. It’s something not a lot of people have done.”
And if he does complete his comeback, it will give him one more chance at fleeting Olympic fame. Despite being the dominant sprinter of his generation, his performances at four Olympic Games have been off-form.
Wotherspoon won silver in the 500 metres at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano.
At the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, he fell at the start the 500 metres. In the 1,000 metres, he finished 13th.
In Turin in 2006, he placed ninth in the 500 and 11th in the 1,000.
The arm injury suffered early in the 2009-2010 World Cup season meant he finished ninth (500) and 14th (1,000) at the Vancouver Olympics in February 2010.
But he hopes he has one more chance to find Olympic glory.