Christine Nesbitt, pictured, believes Anni Friesinger is "very beatable." (Marcus Brandt/Getty Images)
Canada's Christine Nesbitt aims to knock Anni Friesinger off the top step of the podium
By Randi Druzin, CBC Sports
"Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!" was the plaintive cry of Jan Brady, who languished in the shadow of her older sister for five long seasons on The Brady Bunch. No one feels her pain more than Canadian speed skater Christine Nesbitt.
Nesbitt is one of the best speed skaters in the world this season, but she skates in the shadow of German Anni Friesinger.
Since November, Nesbitt has finished second in four individual World Cup races and third in two races. Friesinger won each of those events.
Dubbed "Sexy Anni," Anni Friesinger is the talk of the women's speed skating circuit. (Marcus Brandt/Getty Images)
Nesbitt didn't mind the first few times it happened. She was happy just to get close to Friesinger. But her feelings changed at the Nov. 26 Moscow Cup, where the German broke the track record in the 1,500 metres — and finished one spot ahead of Nesbitt.
"I started getting frustrated," Nesbitt admitted in an interview with CBC Sports Online. "But I think that's good. It shows that I really want to win and have the drive to be the best."
Her drive was evident early on. Nesbitt, 21, started speed skating nine years ago in London, Ont. (She was born in Australia but grew up in London.) She dedicated herself to short track and became one of the best juniors in Ontario.
She won a silver medal with the Ontario short-track 3,000-metre relay team in the Canada Winter Games, and won a bronze in the same event at the 2003 Canada Winter Games.
But her short-track skating path was short-lived. When she wasn't accepted at McGill University in Montreal, where the country's elite short-track skaters train, she headed to the University of Calgary: the home of Canada's long-track program.
She hardly missed a beat.
Nesbitt won a spot on the national team and, last season, began competing on the World Cup circuit, in the 1,000 and 1,500.
She fared well, finishing third in a 1,500 race in November 2005 and fifth in the 1,000 the next month. She also won two silvers with the Canadian women's team pursuit.
At the 2006 Torino Games, Nesbitt placed seventh in the 1,500 and fourteenth in the 1,000. She also won a silver medal in the team pursuit, skating with Kristina Groves and Cindy Klassen.
Only the German pursuit team was faster — and it was led by Friesinger. The veteran also took home a bronze in the 1,000.
Friesinger's success didn't surprise anyone. The daughter of two world-class speed skaters, she had already won medals at several international events, including two Olympics.
She won a bronze in the 3,000 at the 1998 Nagano Games and a gold in the 1,500 at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Friesinger's accomplishments won her acclaim; her looks made her a celebrity. She is blonde and glamorous — a veritable Marcia Brady. The athlete has appeared in several publications wearing a bathing suit, and in one magazine wearing less than that.
Nesbitt is a virtual unknown compared to "Sexy Anni." But the women get along well.
"She's really nice, and it seems like she's been happy to see me improve," the Canadian said about her rival. "We have spoken a bit and discussed training gear. She has been nice enough to give me some things she got from one of her sponsors."
Nesbitt, however, has no intention of allowing the 30-year-old German to get comfortable in the top spot.
"I think she is very beatable," Nesbitt said. "But I can't rely on my strength and technique to beat one of the best skaters in the world. I also need to be mentally prepared to perform at my best. Only then will I beat her. Right now, she is mentally stronger."
Nesbitt's coach believes his protégé's years of training will pay off in Vancouver. (Marcus Brandt/Getty Images)
Nesbitt expects that mental toughness to come with time.
But her coach says even now, after just one full season on the World Cup circuit, Nesbitt could beat Friesinger, who has been skating on the circuit since 1996.
"If Christine focused only on the races that Anni specializes in [the 1,000 and the 1,500], she would probably be better than Anni," Marcel Lacroix said. "But we're not doing that. Christine is focusing on her overall development, on developing her lactic and aerobic capacity.
"She has been training in every distance in order to give her the chance to reach her full potential. We don't want to specialize too early. Our approach will pay off in two years."
Nesbitt hopes it pays off at the 2010 Vancouver Games. "I would love to earn my way to an Olympic gold medal there. Really, that's every athlete's ultimate goal," she said.
"The Vancouver Games are a long way off," Lacroix said. "But if she keeps progressing at this rate, there's a good chance she'll end up on the podium there."
For now, he said, coach and athlete are focused on the present. "That will take us where we want to go."
Out of the shadow of "Anni, Anni, Anni!"
Born: May 17, 1985, in Melbourne, Australia
Hometown: London, Ont.
Height: 5' 7/ 1.71 m
Weight: 161 lbs/ 73 kg
- Started short-track speed skating at age 12
- A top-five athlete in London in both cross country running and athletics
- Attended the University of Calgary
- Played minor hockey in London, Ont. prior to her short-track career
- A national level skater in short-tack before transferring to long-track at age 18
- Canada's Nesbitt racks up sixth individual medal of season
- Nov. 26, 2006
- Ontario's Nesbitt resumes medal haul
- Nov. 19, 2006
- Nesbitt wins long-track bronze
- Nov. 17, 2006
- Nesbitt takes third long-track silver
- Nov. 12, 2006
- Canada wins 2 Olympic speed skating silvers
- Mar. 3, 2006
What they're saying:
"Christine is definitely capable of being on the medal podium at Vancouver. She really needs to get the pressure and experience over the next few years of being at the top and dealing with high pressure situations. I am impressed with her performance so far this year."
— Catriona LeMay Doan, former Canadian Olympic Speed Skating champion
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