Damaged psyches will be tested

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

RICHMOND, B.C. — You know all those sports psychologists paid for by the Own the Podium program?

We’re about to find out if they’re worth it.

The men’s and women’s speed-skating team pursuits start at the Richmond Oval Friday, and both Canadian groups have some damaged psyches to mend if they want to hit the podium.

The women’s team — Christine Nesbitt, Kristina Groves and Brittany Schussler — is favoured for gold, having set the world record earlier this season.

But Schussler, a 24-year-old from Winnipeg competing in her first Olympics, is coming off a nightmare experience in her last race, Sunday’s 1,500 metres, when she lost an edge on her blade, missed her warmup and had to scramble to get to the start on time.

A medal hopeful, a rattled Schussler finished dead-last, and wondered out loud how she’d recover in time for this.

“It took her two days to turn it around,” Team Canada coach Marcel Lacroix told QMI Agency. “She’s got a chance to turn that frown into a smile.”

The women’s team will be counting on Schussler and Nesbitt to pick up whatever slack is created by a tiring Groves, who’s already raced in three events: The 1,000, 3,000 and 5,000.

A two-time medal winner, Groves admits it’s been draining.

“The whole home Games thing, you can’t prepare for the emotion that comes with that,” Groves said. “It does take its toll. I’m actually really looking forward to the team pursuit.”

The men, considered a threat for silver or bronze, may have had an even bigger challenge this week, getting Denny Morrison’s head on straight.

Morrison sounded off after a disappointing finish in Saturday’s 1,500, questioning his coach, his training program, even the other skaters (Lucas Makowsky and Mathieu Giroux) who were chosen for the team pursuit.

“The other guys are kind of reading that and saying, ‘What are we now? Are you just going to use us to get a medal? Are you even interested in skating with us?’ ” Laroix said.

The next day, Morrison issued a public apology, and Sunday he met to clear the air with his teammates.

“It was needed,” Lacroix said. “I saw right away on the ice, in the first practice, the focus was there.”

In his public apology, Morrison certainly said the right things.

“I’m looking forward to not just being a part of that team, but being a positive leader and making sure we do it up,” Morrison said.

The pusuit quarter-finals and semifinals go Friday, the finals Saturday.

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

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