After garnering three world championship medals in as many days in the Netherlands, long-track speed skater Christine Nesbitt won’t be returning to Canada to a royal reception, autograph seekers at her elbow. Such is the anonymity of her sport.
Perhaps she should, though.
The 26-year-old from London, Ont., has dominated her sport for the past several years. Last weekend at the world single distances championship in Heerenveen, the Netherlands, Nesbitt won two gold medals and added a silver medal on Sunday in the women’s team pursuit, as part of the favoured team that tried out a new strategy that didn’t quite work.
In the Netherlands, which holds long-track speed skating near to its heart, Nesbitt is a household name, the subject of hero worship. Last week, Queen Beatrix was in the audience, watching the Canadian who is largely anonymous at home overcome everything.
The only time Nesbitt lost that desire was following the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, when she won gold in the 1,000 metres. She suffered from common post-home-Olympics malaise and it was severe, a feeling quite foreign to her. Her long-time coach, Marcel Lacroix, retired, and then an SUV ran into her, fracturing her right arm, further challenging her motivation.
Add to the emotional load was the death of her 17-year-old beagle, Howi Gordon, whose last name was coined by Nesbitt’s brother in reference to hockey legend Gordie Howe.
Still, Nesbitt found her mojo again.
This season, Nesbitt has dominated the 1,000-metre event, winning all five of her races. At the longer distance, the 1,500 metres, she won three of them and finished second in two. When she won the 1,500 metres last Friday, it was her first victory at the distance in six tries at the world single distances championships. “That 1,500 is pretty long for me,” she said.
“I was really nervous for the past two days for this race,” she said at the time. “….The last lap was super hard and I died.”
She won the 1,000 metres on Saturday by almost a second, even though she had a couple of slips and, her coach said, almost fell. “I don’t think it was that dramatic,” she said.
Nesbitt was born in Australia, but came to Canada when she was three months old. She developed into a young, talented hockey player but at 12, switched to short-track speed skating, declaring at her first competition (against older and more experienced skaters): “I had better win!”
Nesbitt would have probably have become a top international short-track speed skater had she been accepted into McGill University in Montreal, where the national training centre for short track is located. But she was not and instead headed for the University of Calgary, close to the Olympic (long-track) speed skating oval.
Never mind that she also was a musical prodigy, playing piano, guitar and trumpet, and taking time out from her athletics to write a classical piece in three parts, that she dedicated to Howi when she was in Grade 10. That composition finished second in a provincial musical competition.
No, Nesbitt won’t be coming home immediately to a hero’s welcome. She’ll spend a few lighthearted days in Europe with some friends and return to pick up the pieces of some university courses. And then she’ll continue the path she has always taken: winning.
Canadian wrestlers earned three more Canadian Olympic nominations by winning classes at the Pan American Olympic qualifying tournament in Kissimmee, Fla., over the weekend.
Martine Dugrenier of Montreal won the 63-kilogram class while Leah Callaghan of Calgary took first place in the 72-kilogram class. With Carol Huynh of Calgary and Tonya Verbeek of Grimsby, Ont., already on the team, Canada will send a full women’s team to the Olympics this summer in London.
In men’s freestyle, David Tremblay of Montreal became the first Canadian man to earn a nomination to the Canadian team by winning the 55-kilogram category on Sunday.
Kyle Jones of Oakville, Ont., and Brent McMahon of Victoria nudged Canada into eighth place in Olympic qualifying standards with efforts at a tough event in Mooloolaba, Australia, on Saturday. Countries that finish in the top eight get to send a full team of three athletes.
Jones, 27, finished in eighth place in one of his best World Cup series races on Saturday, finishing in 1 hour 54.09 minutes. “This is one step in the right direction,” he said. Jones raced with the leaders during the first 2.5-kilometre loop of the 10-kilometre run but the leaders pulled away in the second loop. Jones said he will fine-tune his running for the rest of the events this season to stay with the leaders.
McMahon placed 14th.
Lauren Campbell of Vancouver came through 12th in the women’s triathlon on Sunday, in her first World Cup event in a year, with time off to heal a broken collar bone.
The 30-year-old Olympian said the Mooloolaba course is one of the most difficult in the world, with its wavy waters, hilly bike course and a run in heat, humidity and wind. In her attempt to earn a second spot for Canadian women, she said she’ll be competing in every World Cup and world championship meet until the end of qualifying in June.
Roseline Filion of Laval, Que., and Meaghan Benfeito of Montreal won a bronze medal in the women’s 10-metre synchronized diving event at a World Series of diving event in Beijing. Laval and Benfeito have already won silver and bronze medals in the four-event series that features only the top eight divers in the world in each category.
Jennifer Abel of Laval, Que., and Émilie Heymans of St-Lambert, Que. won a bronze medal in the three-metre synchro diving last Friday.
Brittany Rogers of Coquitlam, B.C., won a gold medal in vault on what is probably the last World Cup event of her career in Cottbus, Germany, on Saturday.
The gold was her best result in a World Cup stop, bettering her silver last November in Croatia.
Rogers landed a double twisting Yurchenko, and earned the highest score of the competition. She is among a strong group of Canadian women trying to be chosen for the six-member team going to the London Olympics.