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Speedskater going the extra 1,500 metres

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CALGARY -- Kali Christ isn't taking her bye at the Canadian speedskating trials.

The 21-year-old from Regina and Olympic champion Christine Nesbitt were the only speedskaters who knew before trials they were assured of spots on Canada's World Cup team this fall.

Christ (pronounced Krist) doesn't have to race today's 1,500 metres at the Olympic Oval, but she is. She had already earned her spot on the World Cup team in that distance by placing fifth in the world single distance championships in March.

But this is an important season of racing with the Olympic team trials on the horizon in December, followed by the Winter Olympics in February. Christ doesn't want to pass up a race.

"It'll be really good to get it in," Christ said Friday after racing the 1,000 metres. "I think it takes some of the pressure off, but I try to go into most of my races with an analytical approach and focus on what I need to do."

Nesbitt, the reigning Olympic champion in the 1,000 metres, was pre-qualified for the World Cup team in that distance and the 1,500 metres.

The 28-year-old from London, Ont., was fourth in the 1,000 and took bronze in the 1,500 at the single distance championships, which were held at the Olympic venue in Sochi, Russia.

Nesbitt took her free play Friday and didn't race the 1,000, but will join Christ in the 1,500 metres today. The two women are scheduled to race each other in the final pairing.

"You race her in trials, she's been world champion, Olympic champion, world-record holder," Christ said. "You race against her at trials and then anybody else you race at World Cups, you're like 'I got this.'

"I've only been in a pairing with her once and that was last year at World Cup trials in the winter. I had a pretty quick start. I wasn't ready to be that close to her. It kind of took me by surprise. Now that I've got that out of my system, I think it would be really cool to race against her again."

Nesbitt had time and space to develop behind Canadian speedskating stars Clara Hughes, Cindy Klassen and Kristina Groves prior to winning Olympic gold in the 1,000 in 2010.

Nesbitt is now providing that kind of cover for Calgary's Kaylin Irvine and Christ, who finished first and second respectively in the 1,000 Friday.

"She's given me so many pointers," Christ said. "She's been wonderful."

Canada's World Cup team will be selected from the top-five finishers in each distance at trials with the exception of the men's 5,000 and 10,000 metres, in which only three will qualify.

The trials conclude Sunday at Calgary's Olympic Oval with the women's 5,000 metres and the men's 10,000 metres.

There are four World Cups before the Olympic team trials Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. Calgary's Olympic Oval hosts the first World Cup of the season Nov. 8-10.

Christ is starting her third season of racing with the national team. Because of her breakout result at the world single distance championships in Sochi, she's no longer flying under the radar at World Cups.

"Because of my fifth-place finish at the world championships, there is a kind of spotlight on me on the World Cup circuit now," Christ said. "It'll be a good learning process to learn to deal with the pressure. I've never really had that before."

Irvine, Christ, Winnipeg's Brittany Schussler and Heather McLean will join Nesbitt in the women's 1,000 metres.

Top men's sprinter Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., isn't racing the 1,000 or the 1,500 metres at trials because of a rib injury. He's applied for an injury exemption to the World Cup team.

"I don't want to potentially prevent it from healing by racing," Morrison said. "I could still race on it and I still could race and qualify, but I talked with my sport team and coaches and everyone agrees I don't want this injury to linger all season long."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2013 C6

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