Unsure of what to expect from herself after a post-Olympic hangover and a summer of change, Christine Nesbitt went into the World Cup speedskating season with no expectations at all.
Her longtime coach Marcel Lacroix had retired, Speed Skating Canada was restructured from top to bottom, and her training was set back when an SUV crashed into her bike, leaving the Vancouver Games gold medallist with a fractured right elbow. It stood to reason then that the London, Ont., native's performances might dip considering all that happened in the off-season.
Instead, the 25-year-old has become even more dominant.
Nesbitt has won all four 1,000-metre races and all three 1,500s on the World Cup circuit so far. Toss in another victory in the team pursuit and she has already added eight gold medals to her career totals.
They're impressive numbers, but she's taking it all in stride. While in the past she would have become caught up in her success and obsessed over maintaining it (like last year, when she won four 1,000s in a row, for instance), she's now finding ways to keep from building up too much pressure.
"I think it's kind of happened by accident," Nesbitt said recently of her change in mindset. "Last year I was fighting myself, like don't put expectations on it. You're telling yourself that, but deep down inside you feel those expectations.
"This year, for whatever reason, it's been easier to manage that, and just see what I can do every day."
Part of it is surely not having the pressure of a home Olympics to deal this season, and part of it is having other things going on her life to compete for her attention.
Nesbitt is back in school at the University of Calgary, taking an environmental geography class as she "chips away" at a geography degree. She also has more time to nestle into her new digs in Calgary, which she's had for the past year but is only now "getting settled in."
After winning both 1,000-metre races over the weekend in Changchun, China, she's skipping this weekend's World Cup stop in Obihiro, Japan to enjoy some time at home.
"I've been doing a lot of other things outside of skating and I think in that way it's been good for me, I've been distracted from worrying too much and thinking too much about keeping some sort of winning streak," said Nesbitt. "I feel like I've been able to go into every race and be just like, 'OK, let's see what I can do today.'
"And that's been nice because I haven't been comparing myself to previous weeks before races, not putting those expectations on myself. It's been refreshing."
Also refreshing for Nesbitt are the changes at Speed Skating Canada.
Lacroix's departure broke up the small training group she was in with Denny Morrison and Lucas Makowsky, and shook up her entire routine. Now working with Xiuli Wang, Clara Hughes' former coach, and training with other women on the national team, Nesbitt seems to have found a groove she thinks will re-energize her throughout a new four-year cycle through to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"After the [Vancouver] Olympics I was struggling to find motivation and focus and all those type of things," said Nesbitt. "Being in a new environment, it challenges you to look at things in different ways, and to accept change, even if you don't want to.
"Those things are often really good for you and really healthy, you don't want to get stuck in a rut. I'm really proud of what I accomplished over the last four years, but I felt like if I tried to do that again over the next four years, I'd kind of get tired of it or something. I needed a change in direction a little bit."
It was Wang who helped convince Nesbitt not to expect too much of herself given how different the lead-in to this season was compared to the last one. Wang's success over the years with Hughes and Kristina Groves has certainly caught Nesbitt's attention and the two have hit it off.
"It's kind of hard to explain because it has been such a big change but at the same time it feels like it hasn't," said Nesbitt. "I felt really comfortable in the environment right away which is nice.
"Xuili is a really good coach and she has a lot of the qualities I really liked about Marcel — her drive and determination and her unwavering belief in her athletes. They're really reassuring, to know that your coach will fight for you no matter what."
Wang is helping Nesbitt improve on other areas of her skating, particularly the 3,000 and the 500. She wants to win a medal at both the world sprint championships that run Jan. 22-23 in Heerenveen, the Netherlands, and at the world allround championships Feb. 12-13 in Calgary, and needs to make strides at both distances for that to happen.
"Those are kind of my two goals for this season," Nesbitt said. "It's kind of nice to know that I have the capability of doing a good 3,000 and my 500s are pretty consistent.
"Everything seems to be good."