Wotherspoon at peace with career

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency


Jeremy Wotherspoon says he will have no regrets as he retires from speed skating. (QMI AGENCY file photo)

RICHMOND, B.C.—Heading into these Games, people Jeremy Wotherspoon didn’t even know would slip cards under his apartment door in Richmond, wishing him luck at Vancouver 2010.

Luck.

If only the laughing lady and Wotherspoon had gotten along a little better, come Olympic time.

Perhaps the best sprinter the long track has ever seen always seemed to break up with the gal just before the Games, at least the last three times.

The first, going way back to Nagano 1998, produced a silver medal for a then 22-year-old who seemed to have the world at his skates. But the only metal Wotherspoon produced at ensuing Games in Salt Lake City and Turin took the shape of a 1,000-pound anvil on his back, forged by unrealized expectation.

The man who walked away from the Olympic ice for the last time here, Wednesday night, didn’t look bent-over and beaten-down, though. With the fall at Salt Lake and the struggle of Turin in a rear-view mirror polished clean by reflection, the 33-year-old from Red Deer appears to be at peace.

Sure, he probably should have done better under the glow of the rings. But when he sits by the proverbial fire of skating’s retirement home and reminisces, he’s not going to let it eat him up.

“It’s not right now,” Wotherspoon said. “I hope I don’t change my perspective on that. The difficulties I’ve had, or the bad luck, whatever. Those are just going to help me in the future, help me know myself better ... how to always be within myself. And be myself.”

Being himself hasn’t always come naturally for Wotherspoon.

Teammates said he sometimes appeared lost, which was certainly the case going into Italy.

“The worst I felt mentally was in Torino,” Wotherspoon acknowledged. “Going into the second 500 there, I couldn’t even concentrate, I was so disappointed with the first 500. I still got ninth.”

The same position as his last 500, in these Games, but a long way from the days he ruled the distance, winning more World Cups than anyone ever has. Even as recently as 2008, Wotherspoon was on his game, winning the World Championship for the fifth time and capping a season in which he won gold in nine of 10 World Cup events.

He and Lady Luck appeared to have finally patched things up for good.

That autumn, she abruptly walked out the door again, and Wotherspoon fell hard, literally — shattering his left arm in a race just 15 months before the gun sounded for Vancouver 2010.

Medal hopes? Only if you count the steel plate and dozen screws holding his arm together.

“I felt better prepared mentally and better into what I was doing than any other Olympics I went to,” Wotherspoon said. “But the lead-up of the past year wasn’t quite as good as any other Games I’ve been to. That made it harder for me to be as good as I’ve been in the past.”

That’s how it will end, then, with a solitary Olympic silver in his medal chest.

The crowds here weren’t dwelling on that, though. They saw a chance for a grand send-off, and took it.

“I definitely felt that people were showing appreciation for what I’ve done in my career,” Wotherspoon said. “That was a nice feeling.”

After one last ovation in the 1,000 metres Wednesday, Wotherspoon walked down the stairs that led to the bowels of the Oval, and to the rest of his life.

In his immediate future, perhaps one last World Cup race, in Herenveen, the Dutch mecca of skating. After that, he hopes, a second life in the sport, maybe as a coach.

Nothing, though, will duplicate the thrill of the race.

So how do you say goodbye?

“You just do,” he said.

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

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