Christine Nesbitt said it’s hard to think about her gold medal from Vancouver right now, when she’s struggling to rebound from injury to skate the way she wants in Sochi.
The long-track speed skater from London, Ont., who captured one of Canada’s most thrilling medals four years ago, has come to these Games in a much different situation, trying to overcome an undisclosed injury that surfaced this fall. She says it’s an overuse injury, which basically means all those years of training and competing have finally taken their toll on the 28-year-old Nesbitt.
In some ways Nesbitt’s troubles are reminiscent of Canadian speed skater Cindy Klassen’s battle in Vancouver. After winning a record five medals on the long track at the 2006 Turin Olympics, Klassen struggled to regain her form for Vancouver in the wake of double knee surgeries. There may never be as dominant a performance by a Canadian Olympian as Klassen produced in Turin. But when it came to Vancouver, timing was simply against her.
Nesbitt is in a similar predicament. A year from now, after she takes some time off from skating to heal, she hopes to be better. But on Sunday, after she placed 17th in the 1,500-metre event, she knew she didn’t feel like herself out on the ice.
“I just don’t have the ability this year to hold on as well as I have in the past, in the second half of the race,” Nesbitt said. Although she hasn’t talked openly about the nagging overuse injury, she wasn’t able to train for Sochi the way she wanted.
She remains Canada’s top women’s speed skater, but not performing well bothers her deeply. After the race, she wept as she talked about her tribulations.
“I think I’m a really strong athlete, and I work really hard, and I’ve been very dedicated to my sport, so it’s very frustrating when something like an injury is out of your control,” Nesbitt said with tears in her eyes. “I know what my potential is, and I know that I can stand on the podium in my individual distances, so it’s very frustrating.”
Nesbitt’s time of 1 minute 58.67 seconds in the 1,500 was 5.16 seconds back of Dutch gold medalist Jorien ter Mors. The Dutch swept the podium – their third sweep in long track at these Olympics – with Ireen Wust winning silver, 0.58 seconds back, and Charlotte van Beek taking bronze, 1.03 seconds behind. Although Nesbitt was disappointed, her time wasn’t that far off her 1,500 race in Vancouver, where she skated 1:58.33 and placed sixth.
Nesbitt won gold in the 1,000-metre race in Vancouver with a time of 1:16.56. Her time in Sochi in the same event was actually faster, at 1:15.62. But in the four years since then, the field has gotten two seconds faster, skating on ice that’s compatible to Vancovuer. China’s Zhang Hong won the 1,000 in Sochi in a time of 1:14.02.
“It’s hard to remember [the gold medal] at moments like these,” Nesbitt said. She said she plans give her body a rest at the end of the season, and feels she’s still young enough to compete in at least one more Olympics.
If she’s seeking inspiration, Nesbitt needs to look no further than Canadian teammate Denny Morrison. In 2010, Morrison struggled to find his stride, and his frustration showed after finishing out of contention in both the 1,000 and 1,500. At these Olympics, he has completed a remarkable comeback, winning silver in the 1,000 last week, and bronze in the 1,500 on Saturday.
Morrison broke his leg in late 2012 while cross-country skiing, and the slow healing process led to ankle and back issues that played havoc with his stride. His medals in Sochi are a sign of perseverance, Canadian chef de mission Steve Podborski said.
“This is a true example of how you have to continually get past your disappointments,” Podborski said. “These are great victories.”
Nesbitt, who will skate in the women’s team pursuit on Friday and Saturday, can take additional inspiration from Morrison’s experience in Vancouver. After struggling in his individual races in 2010, Morrison channeled his frustration into a gold medal in the men’s team pursuit, ending those Games on a high.
The Canadian women are not favourites in the event – particularly with the Dutch women dominating right now – but it’s a chance for Nesbitt to find her stride.
“I think i need to give my body some rest,” Nesbitt said about her immediate future. “But before I give it any rest, I’ve got to skate three rounds of team pursuit.”
Also skating in the 1,500 on Sunday, Canadian Kali Christ finished 16th, with a time of 1:58.63. Brittany Schussler was 26th (2:00.65), while Brianne Tutt finished 35th (2:03.69).