February 12, 2012
Wotherspoon on comeback trail
By SCOTT MITCHELL, QMI Agency
CALGARY - Amongst the fresh faces and big dreams of the national development team, one veteran speedskater is fighting for another shot.
She doesn't really stand out — until you see her last name.
At 31 years old, Danielle Wotherspoon is more than used to it. She’s always been Jeremy’s little sister.
The younger Wotherspoon has endured a trying few years, but there’s a simple explanation for not hanging up the blades just yet.
“How can you quit when you know you can go faster?” she asked.
Her record-breaking brother, who has the most World Cup wins ever and an Olympic silver medal on his resume, is a big reason why.
“He’s my brother and he can go that fast, there’s no reason I can’t,” Wotherspoon said. “It’s not some superhero or some untouchable person — it’s my brother. I grew up with him. He broke records and he did it in a way that was just being so technically good.”
Wotherspoon made her World Cup debut in 2003, but an illness brought on by training at high altitudes knocked her to the sidelines for most of 2006 and 2007. She once again made the national team in 2008, putting together one of the best seasons of her career.
But since then, it’s been a combo platter of bad luck and a debilitating hamstring injury keeping her from making it back to the top national squad.
“I had such a big block in my skating life that was a struggle, just trying to get where I want to be,” Wotherspoon said of the illness that stole almost two years of her prime. “Now that I have this chronic injury, it’s one year at a time. I mean, last year I broke all my personal bests and I was 30. I think some people think it’s old, but I mean I think (five-time Olympic gold medalist) Claudia Pechstein is like 40.
“It’s such a hard sport technically that I think a lot of people quit before they’re at their best just because of injury or not being able to keep training.”
It’s not all her fault. With Christine Nesbitt and Cindy Klassen holding down many of the World Cup spots, it’s a talented group that Wotherspoon has to wade through.
It’s the hard work and determination that has impressed her coach Mike Crowe.
“Everyone’s path and development is different,” said Crowe, noting Wotherspoon was one of Canada’s better 500-metre sprinters in 2010-11, but just a notch behind the top group. “She’s never stopped learning, which is a good thing. Even in tough times she’s been able to absorb and take those lessons and build on those lessons.
“That shows some real strength of character and strength of commitment. A lot of times you’ll see some people quit before that happens.”
When she’s been healthy enough to race, Wotherspoon has been impressive. She qualified for the Salt Lake City World Cup event in January and placed fifth in the 500-metre and she’ll also head to another World Cup later this year, all the while eyeing up the World Single Distance Championships in the Netherlands at the end of March as a way to get back to the big stage.
“A lot of people didn’t think I’d race at all this year,” Wotherspoon said. “I think I surprised a lot of people by getting so close to my personal bests in such a short amount of time.”
Just like this weekend at the North American Speed Skating Championships at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, where she won the 500-metre races Friday and Saturday and is scheduled to compete Sunday in the women’s 1000-metre race, Wotherspoon is taking it one race and one season at a time.
But mention Sochi 2014 and a grin crosses her face.
“It’s one year at a time, but it’s only two years away, so who knows?”
On Twitter: @SUNMitchell