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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Canada's Christine Nesbitt misses podium in signature speedskating race

Posted: 02/13/2014 10:59 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 02/13/2014 12:18 PM

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SOCHI, Russia - Christine Nesbitt finished far off the Olympic podium Thursday in a race she once dominated. It was disappointing chapter in a frustrating season for the Canadian speedskater.

The 26-year-old from London, Ont., finished ninth in the 1,000 metres at Adler Arena after winning Olympic gold in the distance four years ago.

The opposing skater in Nesbitt's pairing, China's Zhang Hong, won gold for her country's first long-track medal. Zhang's time of one minute 14.02 seconds was almost seven-tenths quicker than the field.

Ireen Wust of the Netherlands was .67 seconds back and teammate Margot Boer .87 behind for silver and bronze respectively to bring the number of Dutch speedskating medals to a dozen.

It was more hope than expectation Nesbitt would stand on the podium again in Sochi, because she hadn't won a medal this World Cup season.

What's confounding is why her performance went sideways in the last few months before the Sochi Games.

"It's been such a crappy season, excuse my language, and every time I feel like I'm getting better something's happened or I haven't quite figured something out," Nesbitt said.

Post-2010, Nesbitt earned multiple world and World Cup titles and set a world record of 1:12.68 in January, 2012 on her home oval in Calgary.

So when she opened her season at home in November over two seconds off that time, Nesbitt looked bewildered. She raced with a tight back there after injuring it in training a week prior.

Nesbitt was 12th a week later in Salt Lake City, Utah, where American Brittany Bowes bettered Nesbitt's world record by a tenth of a second.

Nesbitt skipped the next two World Cup races and didn't compete internationally again until January when she was fifth at the world sprint championship.

The Canadian shed little light after Thursday's race on what befell her this season other than to say she had "issues with my body" that took time to identify and resolve.

"I don't really want to talk about it," Nesbitt said. "I still have the 1,500 in a few days and the team pursuit coming up.

"I had issues with my body. I felt them for a long time, but it just got to a point where I couldn't manage it anymore. Nobody really knew what was going on either. It took a really long time to realize what was going on with my body and then for it to be treated."

Nesbitt revealed prior to the World Cup in Calgary she'd altered her diet after an off-season diagnosis of Celiac disease, but insisted Thursday that wasn't the problem.

"My injuries are always from training and racing," she said. "It was basically an overuse injury. Speedskating is a weird sport in an unnatural position and when you keep hammering on your body, something is going to happen."

"I think I did get the medical support I needed."

Nesbitt raced in the seventh of 18 pairings alongside Zhang, who built up a to a blistering pace for the Canadian to match. Nesbitt was the clubhouse runner-up behind Zhang until the final four pairs.

But Nesbitt knew when she crossed the finish line and tilted her head to see her 1:15.62 that her skate wasn't worthy of a another medal.

"I just thought 'that's not good enough,'" she said. "I had a really good first 600 metres, but I died a huge amount for me and that's usually where I make up my time."

Nesbitt won Canada's lone gold medal in speedskating at the Richmond Oval in 2010. That memory took a little sting off her result in Sochi.

"I already have an Olympic gold medal," she said. "Of course, I'd love to repeat, I'd love to bring home more medals, but no one can take away that medal."

But then the tears came.

"I've been a clean athlete my whole life. I've been someone who has strived to be the best I can. I'm really proud of myself, but it was a hard race today," she said.

Calgary's Kaylin Irvine was 18th, Regina's Kali Christ finished 21st and Winnipeg's Brittany Schussler placed 30th.

Irvine lost time dodging her race partner Monique Angermueller. The German slipped and slid into the corner pads early in their race.

"I held up a bit," Irvine said. "I lost some tenths for sure. I tried to make it up the rest of the race, but when something like that happens in that corner, you're trying to build so much speed. To put on the breaks, it hacked my race a bit."

The Canadian speedskating team has earned one medal, which was Denny Morrison's silver in the men's 1,000 the previous day. The Fort. St. John, B.C., skater will race the 1,500 on Saturday.

Nesbitt, Schussler, Christ and Brianne Tutt of Airdrie, Alta., race the women's 1,500 on Sunday.

Christ, Nesbitt, Schussler and Ottawa's Ivanie Blondin are medal contenders in the women's team pursuit Feb. 21.

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