Third in race raises skater's Olympics hopes

ERIC BENDER -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 6:56 AM ET

Christine Nesbitt says she still can't believe it.

"There I was on the podium with two of the greatest speed skaters ever," said the skater, who learned her early racing skills on London rinks while going to Banting secondary school.

Nesbitt, 20, now a third-year student at the University of Calgary, won her first World Cup medal by finishing third on Sunday in Kearns, Utah, in the 1,500-metre race in a time of 1:54.43. She cut almost three seconds off her personal best.

"I was really tired. I raced for two days in a a row (at 2,000 metres) and six girls skated before me," Nesbitt said from Calgary yesterday.

"If I didn't upset any of them, I could be put down to B group. Oh, no!"

She was paired with Catherine Rainey of the U.S., who also trains at the Calgary oval. "I thought it would be like training -- race and have fun and be relaxed," she said.

Instead, she placed third in an event that saw Canada's Cindy Klassen reclaim her world record with a time of 1:51.79. Klassen's previous mark had been bettered two weeks ago by Anni Friesinger of Germany, who finished second Sunday in 1:53.19.

"It (the medal) gives me confidence that I can be up there and not be worried about qualifying for the Olympics," Nesbitt said.

Her coach, national team coach Marcel Lacroix, has also advised her not to think about a spot in next year's Olympics in Turin, Italy -- and just to skate, she said.

Her medal does not win her a berth in the Olympics. She has Olympic times but so do other skaters she has to better.

World standings are based on World Cup points and there are two more Cup events looming for Nesbitt. She leaves Saturday for the Netherlands for an "all- round" event, then goes to Turin for a pre-Olympic look at the venue and a sprint event there.

Nesbitt will race 1,500 metres and the team pursuit at both and skate the 1,000 metres in Turin as well.

If the World Cup events don't clinch an Olympic spot for Nesbitt, there are Olympic team trials near the end of December in Calgary, which Nesbitt's parents, Judith and Wayne, plan to attend.

Judith said Wayne was at the Canadian single distance championships in 2004 when Christine made her "breakthrough" and won a spot on the national team.

One of Nesbitt's coaches when she was still in London was Gerrit Bos, who happens to be a good friend of Lacroix, her current coach.

"She was an awful strong skater for her size," said Bos who trained London skaters for 23 years before retiring. "I said she was better in long track because the corners are wider and a strong skater can use their power better."


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