Nesbitt wins gold for Canada

By QMI Agency


Christine Nesbitt of Canada celebrates winning the women's 1000 metres speed skating race. (REUTERS/Jerry Lampen)


RICHMOND, B.C. - They don't play the national anthem for the winners at the Olympic speed-skating oval, but the Dutch brass band here was happy to oblige.

And so a rousing rendition of O Canada accompanied Christine Nesbitt on her victory lap, after she'd struck gold in the 1,000 metres, a race she's dominated all season.

Many in the crowd of 6,529 flag-waving fans joined in, too.

Not that Nesbitt even noticed. She was too busy, first cursing herself for the mistakes she made, then searching for her parents in the stands, and finally getting a congratulatory kiss from her boyfriend, Simon Kuipers, of the Dutch team.

And all the while she's thinking, "This is really weird."

"I couldn't believe what was going on," Nesbitt explained, still having a hard time processing what she'd accomplished, a full 30 minutes later.

It didn't come easy for the 24-year-old, who grew up in London, Ont. Heck, it almost didn't come at all.

Nesbitt slipped at the start and kind of stutter-stepped at the finish. But all the steps in between put her ahead by 2/100ths of a second.

And now Team Canada's long trackers, under so much pressure to bring home a pile of hardware at these Games, can breathe a little easier, knowing they're on track.

At the start of Nesbitt's race, that breath may have been more of a gasp. Long before she reached the start line, coach Marcel Lacroix noticed Nesbitt breathing hard. Too hard.

"I was really nervous," Nesbitt admitted.

By race time, though, she thought she'd settled down.

Then the gun sounded, and all hell broke loose -- in the stands, and in Nesbitt's mind.

"My first steps, I kind of slipped," she said. "And then I started to panic going into that first outer turn. And I was like, 'I'm not in a good race.' "

Lacroix used hand signals to remind her of the basics, to stay low, with her knees forward. He was screaming, "Knees over! Knees over!"

With a lap to go, Nesbitt figured she was still way off the pace.

"I even heard it in the crowd," she said. "I felt like everyone went a little bit quieter."

That's when the world's harshest self critic dug down and found something she knew from experience was there. The last time she needed it was at last year's world championship, in this same building.

She'd got off to a bad start in that 1,000, too, but came back to win it.

"A year ago, two years ago, there's no way," Nesbitt said. "I wouldn't have given up -- I never give up -- but that was something that, yeah, mental training really pays off."

When Nesbitt reached the finish line, she tried to kick out her foot, but seemed to make the move too early. With the crowd roaring, she looked at the clock: 1:16.56 -- .28 seconds slower than at the worlds.

"That's not good enough," Nesbitt told herself. "I was not happy. Maybe it was obvious."

But it was good enough. And if there was any doubt about Nesbitt and teammate Kristina Groves of Ottawa fulfilling their gaudy promise at these Games, it should be laid to rest.

Groves, with a bronze in the 3,000 already in the bag, finished fourth, her best result in the 1,000 this season.

The two should make a formidable pair in Sunday's 1,500, the jitters out of the way, the pressure eased the way only a gold medal can.

"A great result for the team," Groves called it.

It always is when your anthem's playing.

No matter who's playing it.

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

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