Nesbitt focused on gold

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency


Canada's Christine Nesbitt is focused on winning the gold medal in the 1,000-metre long track speed skating event at the Vancouver Olympics. (DANIEL MALLARD/QMI AGENCY)

RICHMOND, B.C. — She’s undefeated since last season and favoured to become Canada’s next golden girl Thursday.

But if Christine Nesbitt begins thinking that way, she’s probably doomed.

The London, Ont., native has owned the 1,000 metres since last year’s world championship, winning all four World Cup events this season.

There’s one person, though, she doesn’t want to get ahead of.

Herself.

“You don’t want someone that when the gun goes, she goes with the smoke,” is how her coach, Marcel Lacroix, put it. “She’s going into the race thinking, ‘OK, the gun goes, I’m breathing, I’m doing this,’ and not, ‘I’m freaking out, it’s the 1,000 — am I going to win or am I going to lose?’ She’s got a race plan.”

That plan, literally, starts with the first step — which isn’t Nesbitt’s best.

She is, admittedly, a slow starter who cranks it up after the first 400 metres. By then, nobody’s faster. And you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who wants it more.

“It’s like she’s never won anything,” Lacroix said. “She goes in there wanting to dominate. Not just win, but dominate.”

At 24, the best is yet to come.

Female speed skaters often don’t peak until their late twenties or early thirties.

Nesbitt became the 1,000-metre world champ soon after her 24th birthday.

“Her potential is enormous,” Lacroix said. “She’s young, but she’s mature for her age. She’s matured a lot in the last couple of years. She knows what she wants... knows where she’s going.”

And where, exactly, is that?

“She wants to be on top. She is always racing to win.”

It used to be Nesbitt was impatient about getting to that finish line.

One day, Lacroix put the road map in front of her, saying if she wanted to be the best, win Olympic medals and world titles, this is what she’d have to do.

The amount of work a long track skater puts in is enormous. Every one-tenth-of-a-second improvement takes months of sweat, miles of ice and the kind of patience 20-somethings don’t usually have.

Lacroix remembers Nesbitt’s response when she saw the plan.

“She was, like, ‘OK. But I want to win.’ So it was my job to make sure she knew where she was, to be realistic about her result.”

Now that Nesbitt is near the top, the question is how much better can she get?

That desire to dominate should put her in good stead.

Behind that disarming smile lies a devilish competitor. You get the impression Nesbitt enjoys putting up an imposing time and then watching others wilt trying to match it.

Take what she said about whether the slow ice at the Richmond Oval might favour her.

“Definitely I have an advantage in the 1,000,” Nesbitt began. “My finish is quite strong compared to most girls. If girls who are more on the sprint side die, they’re going to die even harder. Which is good for me.”

It’s a deadly combination of talent, desire, confidence, competitiveness — and being murderously hard on herself.

“She would get really angry at herself if she makes one mistake,” Lacroix said. “She looks at herself in the mirror, and like, ‘What the hell?’ ”

Canada hasn’t had an odds-on favourite like this going into an Olympic race since Cindy Klassen in the 1,500 metres in Turin. But not even Klassen was undefeated.

As for Lacroix, he’s done his tinkering. It’s time to race.

“It’s like a dragster at the light,” the coach said. “My car’s good. Tires are good. It’s the driver. And when the green light goes, can you handle the power? The power’s there. Make a beeline and go for it, man.”

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

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