Road To The Olympic Games


Nesbitt can't catch Wust for all-around title

Canada's Christine Nesbitt finished second to Ireen Wust of the Netherlands at the world all-around speedskating championship Sunday at the Olympic Oval in Calgary.

When the gold medal slipped from her grasp, Canada's Christine Nesbitt shifted her focus to a podium finish and took silver at the world all-around speedskating championship Sunday at the Olympic Oval in Calgary.

Irene Wust of the Netherlands won the women's crown in the speedskating endurance event where the men's and women's champions are determined by their combined results over four distances.

Race times are converted into points and Nesbitt finished 1.65 points behind Wust. Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic was third.

"I don't think this is the best I've skated this year. There's still a lot of work to be done overall and I've already talked to my coach about that," Nesbitt said. "I think over the next two and three years, I think I'm going to get stronger and stronger at the all-around."

Russia's Ivan Skobrev took the men's all-around title, followed by Havard Bokko of Norway in second and Jan Blockhuijsen of the Netherlands in third.

Nesbitt ranked second to Wust after Saturday's 500 and 3,000 metres at the Olympic Oval. Nesbitt's time of one minute 53.22 seconds in Sunday's 1,500 was almost half a second off her career best. Finishing second to Wust in the race virtually eliminated the Canadian's chance at the title.

The 5,000 metres that concluded the races is Nesbitt's weakest event because she's built more for speed than distance. The 25-year-old from London, Ont., gutted out a fast enough time to ensure she'd be at least third, even though Nesbitt hadn't skated a 5,000 in two years.

Sablikova, the Olympic champion in the 5,000 and the defending all-around champion, raced in the final pairing with Wust. When Sablikova tripped and fell on a straightaway heading into her fourth lap, Nesbitt knew she'd earned the silver.

"I have to say I feel pretty good right now," Nesbitt said. "Of course, getting second when someone falls is not the way you want to get second, but I earned being on the podium."

Nesbitt is the Olympic champion in the 1,000 metres and won this year's world sprint title in January. She's undefeated in the 1,000 and was also unbeaten in the 1,500 until Sunday.

Nesbitt was disappointed her 1,500-metre winning streak ended, although Wust is the Olympic champion in the distance. Nesbitt still needs to learn the strategy of the 3,000 and 5,000 in order to win the all-around.

"I know how to race the shorter stuff because I just go as fast as I can and then try to hold on," she explained. "When there are more tactics involved, that's what I have to work on for sure."

Winnipeg's Cindy Klassen, the last Canadian to win an all-around title in 2006, finished fifth. Brittany Schussler, also of Winnipeg, was ninth and Ottawa's Ivanie Blondin was 20th.

Saskatoon's Lucas Makowsky was the top Canadian in the men's field in 15th, while Montreal's Mathieu Giroux placed 15th. Justin Warsylewicz of Regina finished 21st.

The world all-around tests speedskaters' mental toughness as much as their legs and lungs. Nesbitt had to conquer an attack of nerves prior to the 5,000.

"I was pretty freakin' out after the 1,500 before my [5,000]," she said. "Cindy and Britt were there and I was like 'how do you skate a [5,000], what do I do?' They're like 'calm down.'

"All the coaches had to come talk to me and make a race plan. It sounds a bit corny. I just kind of settled in when I walked under the tunnel to go into the middle of the Oval and put my skates on. I had nothing to lose and experience to gain. After the race, I gained experience and was on the podium so it was a win-win."

Nesbitt's time of seven minutes 9.96 seconds wasn't the best of her career, but it was good enough to keep her in the medals.

"I'll never be a great [5,000-metre] skater, but I think there's a lot more I can tap into," she said. "Today, I had a pretty good fight for me and I could have started fighting sooner. That's experience too."

Wust, winner of the 2007 all-around title, was first in the 1,500, second in the 5,000 and 3,000 and third in the 500.

"[Nesbitt] has very strong sprints and that's why she's the world champion sprinter," Wust said. "I'm more of an all-rounder. I don't have as much speed as she has, but I have a little bit more in the long distances."

Sprint and distance specialists often skip the all-arounds, which is why 500-metre champion Jenny Wolf of Germany and Dutch distance star Sven Kramer did not race in Calgary. About 4,000 spectators attended the two-day Essent ISU World All-Around Speedskating Championship.

With the retirements of Clara Hughes, Jeremy Wotherspoon and Michael Ireland after the 2010 Winter Olympics, and veteran Kristina Groves currently sidelined with a concussion, Speed Skating Canada is committed to developing a large pool of skaters for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The men's team has about a dozen skaters capable of top-20 results in their distances including Denny Morrison, Giroux and Makowsky, who won an Olympic gold medal in the team pursuit. The talent pool isn't as deep on the women's side, although Nesbitt, Klassen and Schussler are the skaters producing World Cup medals now.

The Canadian team travels this week to Salt Lake City for World Cup races Friday and Saturday. The Salt Lake and Calgary Olympic Ovals vie for the title of the fastest ice in the world.

The last major competition on the Canadian team's calendar is the world single distance championship March 17-20 in Insell, Germany.

"The world single distance is usually our key competition in the year from the point of view that it mimics the Olympic Games and it's a good benchmark for the Olympics," said Sean Ireland, the long-track team's high performance director. "Our goal this year was to match or better our Olympic performance from 2010 in terms of single distance medals."

The long-track team won five medals, including two gold, at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

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