Banting grad aims for Olympics

STEVE COAD -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:11 AM ET

Dare Christine Nesbitt dream of competing in the Winter Olympics early next year in Turin, Italy?

You bet.

A string of stellar results during the winter World Cup long-track speed skating season has earned the 20-year-old Londoner that right.

Nesbitt, home for three weeks following a 10-day Canadian national team training camp in California, actually has three goals for the 2005-06 campaign -- improving her World Cup standing, skating consistently in the A group, meaning she's ranked among the top 20 skaters in any given competition, and last but certainly not least, qualifying for the Olympics.

Rather than offer them shyly, Nesbitt states her aims in a forthright manner in a letter she has sent to her parents, Judith and Wayne Nesbitt, and to others.

High expectations? Sure, but they're realistic, too.

"I have more confidence now," says Nesbitt, a Banting secondary school grad with just two years experience skating long track where two racers, battle the clock and, by extension, one another on a 400-metre oval. The skaters cross over on alternating laps in races over 500, 1,000, 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 metres.

"You don't know what you're missing till you've been there (in A group)," says Nesbitt, who lives and trains in Calgary. "I can't let myself go back."

Of her recent success and Olympic aspirations, Nesbitt says, "I'm really in the mix."

To qualify for the Games in Turin, Nesbitt needs to be ranked in the top four in Canada at any individual distance or in the top five overall to gain a spot on the pursuit team.

Currently, she is ranked fourth in the 1,000 metres and fifth at 1,500 metres.

In the national pecking order, only Cindy Classen of Ottawa and Winnipeg's Kristina Groves and Shannon Rempel are ahead of her.

Nesbitt's first World Cup event, a 1,000-metre race in Calgary in January, was not a favourable portent of things to come. "I finished in the middle of the B group pack (and) that's where I expected to stay for the rest of the season," she says.

That doesn't mean she was pleased with the Calgary result or that she wouldn't work like crazy to improve.

Things took a dramatic twist.

Next time out, a 1,500-metre race in Baselga di Pine, Italy, Nesbitt surprised herself and her coaches with a second-place finish in B group. A fluke, perhaps? Two weeks later in Erfurt, Germany, Nesbitt placed fourth in the first of two B group 1,000s and third in the second run.

When the racing shifted to Henreveen, Netherlands, Nesbitt found herself in the A group for the 1,500, her favourite distance.

"It was very exciting," she says. "The Dutch love their speed skating like we love our hockey and I have never been cheered for so loudly. I placed 18th, so I wasn't too thrilled."

She also placed sixth in the B group 1,000 metres.

Her season's performances qualified Nesbitt for both the 1,000 and 1,500 at world championships in Inzell, Germany, in March. She placed 17th among 24 skaters at both distances, a deserved exclamation mark to a great season.


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