Nesbitt shines with London fans

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:18 AM ET

Who would have pictured, as Christine Nesbitt skated ovals at the Western Fair Olympic rink, that five years later, she'd be in a real Olympic arena winning a real Olympic medal?

"You dream and you hope, but the reality . . . ," Nesbitt said yesterday as she returned to the arena where her Olympic dreams began.

The Londoner, who turns 21 next month, stood on the podium in Turin, Italy, two months ago, accepting a silver medal for Canada's effort in women's speed skating team pursuit.

Nesbitt is back home in London for the first time in a year, enjoying some rest, and yesterday was out with the London Speed Skating Club.

She spent the better part of the afternoon posing for pictures with her medal and signing autographs.

She returns to the Canadian training centre in Calgary next week to begin preparing for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

"I know I can be a lot better and I have a long way to go," she said of her first Olympics, which also included a seventh-place finish in the 1,500 metres and 14th in the 1,000 in Turin.

"But there are other goals along the way, so it's not like 'OK, today is the first day of how many days it is until Vancouver.' "

Three years ago, Nesbitt was wondering if she had enough time to make the 2006 Olympic team, as she made the switch from short-track to long-track.

The Banting secondary school graduate wasn't accepted to McGill University in Montreal, where the short-trackers train, and settled for the University of Calgary.

She reset her goal to be in Turin three years later as a long-track skater and "I know a lot of people probably thought it was ridiculous.

"It was quite a challenge because I had just switched and I really wasn't very good at all when I started, but I'm really stubborn, so I worked hard and every year I improved.

"But at the start of that first year, you would not have believed I would have gone anywhere. But I like to challenge myself and I just feel if I work really hard, I can achieve anything I want to."

She was named to skate with Clara Hughes and Kristina Groves in the 2,400-metre pursuit final after Cindy Klassen helped Canada qualify by skating the quarter-final and semifinal.

Klassen wanted to rest for her other events, but Nesbitt wasn't expecting to get the nod because she's more a sprinter.

"One of the strategies we used is I'm really comfortable skating with people, where most long-trackers aren't very comfortable with it," she said. "I was able to push Clara in the first few hundred metres."

Nesbitt was born in Australia and moved to Canada when she was just weeks old. She said none of this would have been possible without the financial support of her parents. Dad Wayne is an Earth sciences professor at Western and mom Judith is a teacher at Lord Roberts elementary school.

Nesbitt advanced so quickly that the national funding system wasn't able to keep pace.

Only last May did she begin receiving $900 a month as a nationally carded athlete and she only received her first $1,600 cheque as an Olympian a week ago.

"Dad and mom have really supported me. I couldn't have done it without them."

Nesbitt is embarrassed by the attention she's been receiving in London. And of course, everywhere she goes, people want to see the medal.

"My medal usually sits in my room in Calgary," she said. "It's something everyone else wants to see, but for me, I'm more proud of the race than the medal, if that makes sense."

She passed it around the congregation at church in Calgary one Sunday morning and it came back with a large scratch in it, caused by a woman's diamond ring.

Nesbitt had hoped a jeweller might be able to buff it out, but it wasn't possible.

"There's not much I can do, so I guess I'll just go win another one," she said in a confident tone.

That confidence got her on the Olympic podium.


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