CALGARY — Jeremy Wotherspoon remains committed to an Olympic comeback in speedskating despite a setback.
The four-time Olympian from Red Deer, missed qualifying for Canada’s World Cup team in the 500 metres Thursday
In his first races since the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, Wotherspoon needed a top-five result at trials to represent Canada in World Cup races this fall, but he finished 11th.
The 36-year-old will race the 1,000 metres at the Olympic Oval on Friday, but the 500 metres is his specialty. Wotherspoon still holds the world record of 34.03 seconds set in Salt Lake City in 2007.
The Olympic trials for Canada’s long-track speedskating team are Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. Wotherspoon believes that’s enough time to get his race legs back and compete for a medal at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
“As much as I’d like to do 500-metre World Cups, it’s not my main goal,” he said. “My goal is to build and build towards the Olympics.
“I know there’s still a couple of months before the Olympics trials. After that, there’s a month and a half before the Olympics so, it’ll come quick, but it’s still a lot of days for me to focus and lot of days for me to build up to that competition.”
Wotherspoon announced in June he was coming out of retirement for another shot at Olympic glory.
He’s earned more World Cup medals than any other man with a career 67. Wotherspoon won three 500-metre world titles and another in the 1,000, plus four world sprint championships during a career that spanned a decade and a half.
He was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame last year.
Wotherspoon’s Olympic silver medal in the 500 metres in 1998 is overshadowed by an absence of medals at three subsequent Winter Games.
He was the favourite to win the 500 in 2002, but stumbled and fell. Wotherspoon was ninth in the 500 in both 2006 and 2010.
When Wotherspoon announced in March, 2010, that he was done racing, he said then it would take a while to get used to the idea.
The lure of competition and the desire to race for a medal in the Olympics continued to call to him while coaching in Inzell, Germany, the last three years.
“I missed that feeling of excitement and adrenaline and then the relaxation you get after a competition,” Wotherspoon explained.
“It’s a nice type of feeling to have. At the same time, I’m committed to being the best I can at Sochi. I don’t want to go there as a tourist getting experience because I have that experience.
“I want to go there and be able to compete. If I feel there’s no way I can go and compete, I don’t want to take that spot away from someone else who could gain valuable experience.”
The men’s 500-metre rankings were determined by the combined time of two races, but Wotherspoon stepped to the start line three times Thursday
He was given a re-race of his opening 500 metres because the other skater in his pairing, Patrick Marsh, blocked him on the backstretch during the lane change.
So after posting a time of 35.43 seconds in his second race, Wotherspoon skated alone in his re-race for a time of 35.69.
“It was a tougher day than I expected,” he said. “It’s not a normal competition feeling when you’re by yourself at the end. It feels a bit like the competition is over.
“It’s a good test, a good mental test. Even though I’m old and experienced, it was a new experience. It was a good test to try and perform well under difficult circumstances.”
Edmonton’s Jamie Gregg, Calgary’s Gilmore Junio, William Dutton of Humboldt, Sask., Laurent Dubreuil of Levis, Que., and Alexandre St-Jean of Quebec City finished first to fifth in the men’s 500 metres.
The Canadian trials continue Friday until Sunday. The top five racers in all distances qualify to race the first four World Cups of the season with the exception of the men’s 5,000 and 10,000 metres, in which only three skaters will be named to the Canadian team.
The World Cup season opens Nov. 8-10 in Calgary followed by stops in Salt Lake City, Astana, Kazakhstan, and Berlin, Germany.
Olympic 1,000-metre champion Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., has already qualified to race the 1,000 and 1,500 metres. She won the 500 metres Thursday.
Regina’s Marsha Hudey, Wotherspoon’s sister Danielle from Red Deer, Calgary’s Kaylin Irvine and Winnipeg’s Shannon Rempel were second to fifth respectively.
Ottawa’s Ivanie Blondin won the women’s 3,000 metres ahead of Winnipeg’s Brittany Schussler, Ottawa’s Lauren McGuire, Brianne Tutt of Airdrie, Alta., and Edmonton’s Nicole Garrido.
Saskatoon’s Lucas Makowsky was the fastest in the men’s 5,000 metres. Toronto’s Jordan Belchos finished second and Mathieu Giroux of Pointe-aux-Trembles, Que., was third.
The top 500-metre men in the world currently includes 24-year-old Tae-Bum Mo of South Korea, 27-year-old Michel Mulder of the Netherlands and 28-year-old Joji Kato of Japan.
Wotherspoon turns 37 later this month. Canada’s Clara Hughes won an Olympic bronze medal in the 5,000 metres at age 37 in 2010, but distance racing favours older athletes because of the years it takes to build up a big aerobic engine.
Sprinting requires fast-twitch muscles and explosive training on and off the ice.
“Time will tell, but I don’t think I’ve lost my ability to move fast,” Wotherspoon said. “I feel like I just need to get it back.”