There are times when it seems speed skater Christine Nesbitt is a relentless medal-winning machine.
But Friday, when the skater from London, Ont., won the 1,500-metre world championship, victory was sweeter than usual. It was the first time in six tries at the worlds that she had won the 1,500 metres.
“I’m really happy about it,” said Nesbitt, who’d had only one championship medal at the distance, a bronze she won by default in 2009 when teammate Kristina Groves was disqualified.
“This is the first time I earned a medal and I’m happy to break that barrier,” said Nesbitt, who dominated the field this year in the 1,500 metres. She won the championship race in 1 minute 56.07 seconds in the hotbed of speed skating, Thialf Arena in Heerenveen, the Netherlands. It’s a venue teeming with noisy Dutch fans, urging on national heroes.
But Friday, those Dutch heroes were a third of a second behind Nesbitt’s powerful, rhythmic strides. Dutch skater Ireen Wust took silver and countrywoman Linda de Vries bronze. Winnipeggers Cindy Klassen and Brittany Schussler took fourth and 11th place, respectively.
“It was a mental barrier for me,” Nesbitt said, “1,500 metres is long for me at the end of the season. It’s a big step.”
Nesbitt shook off a case of first-race jitters and followed through on a plan she’d drawn up Thursday night with coaches Xiuli Wang and Mark Wild. It’s a busy weekend for Nesbitt. Saturday she defends her 1,000-metre title, and Sunday she has two races, the 500 metres and the women’s team pursuit.
Canada placed three other skaters in the top 10 on opening day: Klassen in the 1,500 metres, and, in the men’s 1,000 metres, Denny Morrison was just off the podium in fourth spot while Jamie Gregg was seventh.
Nesbitt won the overall 1,500-metre World Cup title this season, with two silver medals and three gold.
“It was a good race,” Nesbitt said. “I was really nervous for the past two days for this race. I finally started to feel good on the ice this morning.
“I knew I had that moment where I felt secure in the plan and I relied on that. I followed it really well. The last lap was super hard and I died, but my first 1,100 metres was really strong so I was able to podium. … This is the first time that I earned my medal and it’s really great.”
Wild said the next two days are about “managing expectation. … It’s a question of starting all over again in a fresh page. Each race is new, nothing’s set in stone.”
Wang said Nesbitt’s technical skills are the key to her wins. “I told her it was another practice for the [Sochi]Olympics.”