CALGARY — Jeremy Wotherspoon is planning to step away from speedskating once the current season ends.
The long-track star from Red Deer, widely considered the greatest sprinter of all time, made the revelation Sunday, several hours after making more progress in his comeback from the broken left arm he suffered last year.
Nearly 25 years of racing at various levels — 15 of them with the national team — have taken their toll on his 33-year-old body, and he figures with the Olympics in Vancouver coming up, the right time to move on is approaching.
“This is my last season. After this I’ll be retiring and we’ll see what happens after that,” Wotherspoon said during an interview with The Canadian Press. “I think it’s time for a change, there are other things I want to do in life and I don’t want to do this until my body is broken and then try to do some other stuff.”
Few speedskaters can match Wotherspoon’s resume.
He holds the 500 metre world record of 34.03, is an Olympic silver medallist, a four-time world champion and has more World Cup wins than any other male competitor.
He’s revered in the speedskating hotbed of the Netherlands, where his graceful stride is admired like a work of art.
But Wotherspoon hasn’t been appreciated in the same way at home, at least partly because of his failure to win gold at the 2002 and ’06 Olympics.
In Vancouver, he won’t be a heavy favourite like he was at those two Games, since he’s working his way back into form as a result of the injury he suffered at last year’s season-opener in Berlin. On Sunday, he skated in just his second race at the World Cup level since that fall, finishing second in the men’s B 1,000 race with a time of one minute 8.02 seconds.
It was the day’s sixth-fastest time overall and came on the heels of his skating to the seventh-best time in the 500 Saturday, 34.65 seconds in another B race. Both are signs that he may yet be a force at the Vancouver Games, but, regardless of how that plays out, he feels his time has come.
“I do have some, not major problems, but things get out of whack easily now,” he said of his body. “So it’s tiring to train full time and do all the recovery work I need to do to keep on top of those issues.
“And I feel like I’ve (raced) long enough and been successful at it long enough and happy with it, and the Olympics are in Canada, so after that I think is the best opportunity to make my change to something new.”
Wotherspoon isn’t sure whether his final race will be at the Olympics or if he’ll finish out the World Cup season, and his plans for the future are also a bit up in the air.
“After the Olympics I’ll decide,” he said.
But there’s no decision to be made on whether or not his body can handle more skating after this season. There are more aches and pains to deal with now and doing the necessary work is becoming tougher and tougher.
“My back is pretty sore pretty regularly, and my sides are sore, my hip is sore all the time,” he said. “Maybe when I quit I’ll still be sore but I won’t be thinking, ’I feel sore, but I’ve got to go train,’ no matter how much I like it.
“You’ve got to not just get mentally up for it when you’re hurting, but physically up for it. It’s easier a lot of times to mentally get up for it than physically when you’re hurting like that. That’s what happens over time.”
Still, Wotherspoon believes there were several signs that he’s got something left in the tank and national team sprint coach Michael Crowe agrees. He described Wotherspoon’s first two races as a chance for his charge to eliminate the rust, and expects to see a step up at next week’s World Cup in Salt Lake City.
“Now we’re just trying to get him a little bit more aggressive,” said Crowe. “I feel he hasn’t necessarily been in race mode yet, so getting him out there racing, being aggressive, knowing that everything is going to be in place for that.”