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Schussler's eyes on the prize

Winnipeg speedskater focused on 1,500-metre race

Posted: 02/10/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Canada's Brittany Schussler (front) and Luiza Zlotkowska of Poland compete in the women's 3,000-metre speedskating race on Sunday.

PATRICK SEMANSKY / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Canada's Brittany Schussler (front) and Luiza Zlotkowska of Poland compete in the women's 3,000-metre speedskating race on Sunday.

SOCHI, Russia -- On the surface, a 19th-place finish doesn't appear successful, but it still plays into Brittany Schussler's scheme here at the Winter Olympics.

Schussler was more than 14 seconds off Dutch speedskater Irene Wurst's gold medal time of 4:00.34 in the women's long track 3,000-metre on Sunday.

"I wanted to skate my race. It wasn't flawless -- a 3K rarely is -- but I'm really happy with it. Right before I went to the line, after Yuliya (Russian skater Yuliya Skokova) threw down such a great race and the crowd was going crazy for her, well, it kind of felt like Vancouver to me and it allowed me to exorcise those demons as well. To feel that crowd and to feel those nerves, it was good to get out there, skate like I could and get that out of the way," said Schussler.

'I wanted to be good (Sunday) for me. I can't change how fast everyone else skates'

-- Winnipeg's Brittany Schussler on using the 3K to get ready for her primary races

The 28-year-old Winnipegger left Vancouver shrouded in disappointment. She says she was too focused on winning a medal and not enough on the process of skating her best races.

In Sochi, she's determined to try to put her best races on the track and let the results take care of themselves. She has a plan that will hopefully culminate in a medal performance in the 1,500, which is her best skate.

"This isn't my race and next up is the 1,000-metre, and I can try to hit some speed in the 1,000 on Thursday, and then hopefully everything comes together for the 1,500-metre," she said Sunday.

Schussler, of course, would have liked a better outcome on Sunday, and will also be gunning for a medal in the 1,000-metre, but it's the 1,500-metre where she has her best opportunity for a podium finish.

"The 3,000 is a good race to figure out the ice and I will definitely make some adjustments. To say the 3,000 isn't my focus, well, that's not entirely fair. I definitely train hard for this race and I'm the Canadian champ at this distance, and I take it very seriously and want to do well. That being said, it would have taken an awful lot for me to win a medal (Sunday), a lot of falls by some other people. I wanted to be good (Sunday) for me. I can't change how fast everyone else skates."

Schussler has been plagued by a back injury this season but says it's not hampering her.

"My back is as good as it's going to be. It's not bugging me right now. It flares up once in a while but that's sports. I have to deal with it," she said.

The 3,000-metre requires high endurance, while the 1,000-metre rewards high speed. Schussler says she brings a mix of both to the sport, which hopefully can lead to a medal in the 1,500-metre.

"The 1,500-metre is a race that everyone skates differently. It's a middle distance, and you have to play to your strengths," said Schussler. "Physiologically, I'm a 1,500-metre skater. I have good but not amazing top-end speed and good but not amazing endurance. For me, it's hitting that speed but feeling that 3K feel where I can keep going and going."

Schussler is in her third Olympics as a regular competitor and has skated internationally for almost a decade. Sochi hasn't thrown her any curveballs.

"I've heard that back home they're hearing rumours that it's bad here, but it's been great. We have a great setup and the food has been good," she said. "The ice is as good as it's going to be and you have to be tough out there. That's life. It's just slow. It's a slow track. That was my slowest international race of the year. It was probably everybody's slowest race of the year. The ice is like it was in Vancouver. We're at sea level; it's hot out. They're doing the best they can and the ice is good. But you're not going to rip out there, and you have to come to terms with that."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 10, 2014 C3

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