RICHMOND, B.C. — As skater after skater eclipsed his time, Jeremy Wotherspoon watched his last shot at an Olympic gold medal evaporate.
Wotherspoon concluded his Olympic career Wednesday by finishing 14th in the men’s 1,000-metre long-track race at the Richmond Olympic Oval with a time of one minute 10.35 seconds. The time put him almost a second and a half behind gold medallist Shani Davis of the United States.
“The 1,000 metres, I haven’t been as strong as in the 500 in the last bunch of years so it’s tough to just suddenly go out and beat the world when you haven’t done that in a while,” Wotherspoon said. “I just wanted to go skate my best and see what kind of speed in the first 600 and try to hold onto that as best I could.”
For the first 600 metres of his final race, Wotherspoon looked like the man who set the world record in the distance on seven separate occasions to go along with three world records in the 500. In fact, Wotherspoon’s split times put him ahead of Davis until the final lap.
“I felt like I had nothing left at the end of that race so it’s hard to say what I could I could have done better or what I could have done differently,” he said. “I’m sure there are lots of things I could have done without changing the race today.”
Wotherspoon noticeably slowed on the final lap. He had the best time when he crossed the finish line, but it was not good enough to stand up against the quality of skaters that followed — including Davis and silver medallist Mo Tae-Bum of South Korea.
Wotherspoon never seemed to be able to convert dominance on the World Cup circuit to a gold-medal performance in an Olympics.
After winning a silver medal in the 500 metres in Nagano in 1998, the native of Red Deer was odds on favourite to take gold in the discipline four years later in Salt Lake City.
Those dreams were dashed just a few strides into his opening 500-metre race when he clipped the tip of his blade into the ice and fell. He then slumped to an 11th place finish in the 1,000.
At the 2006 Games in Turin, Wotherspoon was struggling with his form on the ice and finished ninth in the 500 and 11th in the 1,000.
“Physically, the best I ever was, was going into Salt Lake City, and I think mentally I was pretty good there. Things just went awry. I think going into Turin I think that mentally I was struggling the most because I was having trouble finding the feel I wanted trying to be perfect,” he said.
Wotherspoon took a year away from speedskating after the 2006 Games and came back looking like the he was able to combine the best of his mental and physical preparation. Wotherspoon was getting on the podium on a regular basis on the World Cup circuit until he broke his arm in November, 2008 at a race in Berlin.
“Ever since the last season I’ve never felt completely myself or completely at the top of my game again,” he said. “I’ve had some days I’ve had where it felt good but the consistency of it hasn’t been as good as I’d been in the past.”
The arm did heal, but he never felt comfortable on the ice this season.
“It’s hard to say how it affected me. It never has felt the same but it’s hard to say how that has played into my skating exactly.”
A generation of young skaters growing up at the Calgary Olympic Oval have had the opportunity to watch and learn from arguably the best Canadian athlete never to have won an Olympic gold medal.
“Jeremy has made me what I am. It’s so sad that this is going to be the last race that he’s going to be doing,” said Kyle Parrott, who has been training with Wotherspoon and Mike Ireland for the past two years.
“It’s a little bit hard to see what the world level is when you’re not out there racing against them and you’ve got to get in there. It’s good to have those guys with you. They are the world team when you are young because they’re your vision into what the rest of the world’s doing.”
The next wave of young skaters may not see him fly around the ice in world record time, but Wotherspoon has said he may consider entering into coaching.
There are still two World Cup events that remain on the calendar this season. Wotherspoon has not decided whether or not he’ll take part, but said he’ll think about over the next few days.
“The one draw of the last World Cup is that it’s in Heerenveen (Netherlands) and that’s another big crowd like this and a big skating Mecca in a way so it would be a nice place to do a final race,” he said. “I’d also want to feel like I’m motivated to race too. I don’t like to just go and show up and go through the motions.”