Everyone pulling for Wotherspoon

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

RICHMOND, B.C. — It has come to this for Jeremy Wotherspoon: Everyone, it seems, is pulling for him to do something positive today.

That’s not necessarily a good thing, because those well wishes come with a touch of sympathy.

Wotherspoon will race the final 500 metres of his incredible career today at the Richmond Olympic Oval. That it comes in a home-ice Olympics sets the stage for one of those made-in-Hollywood endings.

But with Wotherspoon, you just never know.

“I hope he’s going to be on the podium,” Luuk Blijboom, a Dutch speed-skating writer for De Telegraaf, told QMI Agency. “It’s the end of the career he deserves.”

Wotherspoon is seen as a tragic hero, both here and on the international stage.

First, the good: Which includes a slew of world championship gold medals, most in the distance he’s owned for much of the last 20 years.

“One of the greatest, if not the greatest sprinter in the world,” is how Tim Senden of the Dutch News Agency described the Spoon. “He doesn’t lose his talent, even when he’s one year off by his own choice, and one year by an injury. He’s got an extreme talent.”

Wotherspoon took all of the 2006-07 season off, only to set a world record in his first race back, one of a dozen times he’s broken the mark.

“If he skates like he did two years ago, we’re in trouble,” American skater Tucker Fredricks said this week.

Wotherspoon is seen as a natural who takes less effort to gain speed than anybody.

“It’s an incredible speed he’s making,” Blijboom said. “His movements are so slow, you don’t see it.”

Now, the bad: Wotherspoon’s reputation as someone who tightens up on the biggest stage is world-wide, too.

“The racer who at this point couldn’t make it in the Olympics,” Senden said.

Yes, Wotherspoon broke onto the scene with a silver medal in Nagano in 1998.

But that only set the stage for heartbreak in the next two Games: The stumble right off the start line in Salt Lake City, then a head-scratching ninth-place finish in Turin, completing a downward spiral that nobody could explain.

“He looks cool,” Senden said. “But when there are five Olympic rings in the stadium, he can’t show what his real abilities are.”

In the Netherlands, just like in North America, they call that choking.

“It’s the obvious theory,” Senden said.

Others don’t buy it.

“I don’t believe in stories like he drops because of the pressure,” Blijboom said. “He doesn’t seem the type for that. I’d call it bad luck.”

That’s certainly what dogged Wotherspoon last season, when he shattered his left arm in a fall, wiping out the entire 2008-09 campaign.

He came back this season with a metal plate and seven screws holding him together.

All the hardware in the world, though, can’t repair the psyche.

And so while Wotherspoon has made it back this far, you still just never know.

Dutch skaters both worship him and marvel at his failings, even using the line from Forrest Gump to describe the Red Deer native a while back.

“It’s a box of chocolates and you never know what you get,” Blijboom said, recalling one skater’s description.

“There’s always something with him. He’s got an incredible record. But it’s strange that it’s never been at the Olympics. Which proves the magic of the Olympics.”

There’s one thing Wotherspoon has going for him. Unlike past Games, few expect he’ll hit the podium.

“I don’t consider him for gold,” Senden said. “But I think he wins bronze.”

Seems wishful thinking, in Wotherspoon’s case, extends far beyond Canadian borders.

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca THE UPS AND DOWNS OF JEREMY WOTHERSPOON THE HIGHS -silver medal in 500m at 1998 Olympics -world 500m champion in 2003, 2004, 2008 -combined sprint champion in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 -World Cup 500m champ from 1998-2000, and 2002-2005 -World Cup 1000m champ from 1998-2002 -most career World Cup wins with 67 THE LOWS -fell in the Olympic 500m in 2002 -finished ninth in Olympic 500m in 2006 -finished 11th in Olympic 1,000m in 2006. -broke arm in a fall, missed entire 2008-09 season

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