Christine Nesbitt admits she’s nervous, and with good reason: She’s been waiting a long time for this moment.
When the long-track speed skater from London, Ont., steps on the ice for the women’s 1,000-metre race Thursday, she will not only have the opportunity to defend her Olympic gold medal. She will also have the chance – finally – to put to rest all the things that have dogged her for the past few years, since reaching that pinnacle at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
The summer after, she was hit by a car while training on her bike, and suffered a broken arm. Then, she came down with a mystery ailment in late 2012 that sapped her of energy and the ability to train. Later diagnosed as celiac disease, or severe gluten intolerance, Nesbitt has spent the past few months trying to get her racing back on track for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
She has brought special foods with her to Russia to help keep everything under control while she competes. And since she was forced to miss much of the World Cup circuit this season, she has also come to Sochi with a surplus of butterflies, which she hopes to convert into the skate of her life.
“I have a lot of nervous energy,” she said. “But I’m usually able to translate that into a lot of motivation and a lot of energy for my races, so that’s good.”
Though she considers herself an underdog in the race, she doesn’t see the nerves as a detriment. Used properly, it’s the kind of intangible that can drive her forward. “It’s just one of the tricks in your bag when you are ready to go to the line,” Nesbitt said.
There may be another factor that works in her favour, too: The Adler Arena, where long-track speed skating is being contested, is considered slow ice, much like the Vancouver facility.
Tracks built closer to sea level, such as those two, freeze differently and the ice has less glide than ovals at higher altitudes such as those in Calgary and Salt Lake City.
Since landing in Sochi, Nesbitt has been training on the ice to find the right mix of pushing and gliding needed for success.
“It feels really grippy, which is nice when you are accelerating but not necessarily great to hold your speed,” she said. “Sometimes, you push too hard, and it can really shorten your gliding phase. So it’s kind of finding that right balance of fine tuning your technique for this specific ice.”
For a skater who has been forced to confront her share of hurdles away from the track, being able to talk about such things as strides and ice conditions is a nice return to the days of 2010, when she was among the most-formidable women on the speed-skating circuit. She’ll be looking to find that same feeling on the ice in Sochi.
Everything else is in the past, she said. “Now, I’m looking forward.”