Nesbitt demands more of herself

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Canadian speed skating 1,000-m gold medallist Christine Nesbitt is flanked by silver medallist Annette Gerritsen from The Netherlands and Laurine van Riessen, who won bronze. (DANIEL MALLARD/QMI AGENCY)


RICHMOND, B.C. — It was another glorious moment for Canada, a gold medal in a traditional Olympic sport, captured on home soil, in front of an adoring crowd.

But for the victor, Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., the win Thursday in long-track speed skating 1,000 metres (1:16.56), was a performance tinged with the realization that not all gold shines equally bright.

For most Olympic champions, particularly those with the fortitude to pull it off at home, a gold medal is a gold medal and the cause of unbridled joy.

But Nesbitt is not wired that way.

Canada’s third gold medallist at these Games got off to a slow start at the Richmond Olympic Oval and nearly stumbled at the finish and never felt great the entire race, and because of that, refused to allow herself to ... well, she did smile. But not overwhelmingly.

“Well, I’m relieved, I’m happy,” she said, exhibiting the tone of a mechanic explaining why he just put in a couple of new shocks. “But I’m lucky. I didn’t skate technically a great race for myself and I love criticizing myself.”

Yes, she was happy that she won, defeating Annette Gerritsen of the Netherlands by a mere 2/100ths of a second in a race won more on grit than technique. But there was certainly no outpouring of jubilance from the Australian-born skater. Nesbitt shed a few tears when the final pair of women finished and she remained on top of the leader board. But they were more tears of relief.

Nesbitt, who has dominated the women’s 1,000 on the World Cup circuit this season, knew she did not have a good race (for her) and wouldn’t allow herself to bask in the glory. Nor will she until after Sunday’s 1,500. And only then if she races well in that event.

“If I skate the way I skated today, my 1,500 is not going to be good enough to get me on the podium. So I have to look at this race today and figure out what I didn’t do well, whether it’s mental or physical, and use that to fuel me for my 1,500,” she said. “That’s one of my strengths, too. When I’m not happy with my race, I can use that to skate a really good race next time.”

The 24-year-old is ranked second in the world in the 1,500, just behind teammate Kristina Groves, who finished fourth yesterday.

“Just give her a couple of days and she’s going to realize that a gold medal is a gold medal,” said her coach Marcel Lacroix. “Nobody’s going to remember by how much she won, or how ugly or beautiful it was. She was on the podium with a gold medal. Give her a couple of days.”

Nesbitt’s friend and rival Anna Friesinger-Postma, who finished 14th Thursday and described her own race as “blah”, believes Nesbitt deserves more credit than she is giving herself.

“There’s big pressure to skate in your country, at the Olympics, with millions of people watching you,” said the German skater. “She had a tough race, but she won, and she was fighting for the last metre, and this is why she earned gold.”

Perhaps on Saturday if she and Groves finish 1-2, Nesbitt will cry or leap for joy, or whatever. That’s not to say she was devoid of all emotion. Her sense of humour was still intact.

“I can’t even imagine myself being that old,” she said, with a laugh, when asked if she will appreciate her gold medal more in 10 years.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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