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Speed Skating

Kristina Groves - Wednesday Feb. 12, 2014 00:09

Christine Nesbitt lacks intensity she had in Vancouver

Vancouver champion has struggled but can still rebound

ChristineNesbitt-Getty468633217
Christine Nesbitt has struggled this season. (Getty)

They say rising to the top of the podium is far easier than staying there. Indeed, defending one’s Olympic title is a feat of epic proportions. Canada’s Christine Nesbitt has no doubt learned this the hard way as she prepares to defend her Olympic gold medal in the 1000m here in Sochi.

It’s no secret that Nesbitt has struggled with her form – and her confidence – early this Olympic season. But in the two seasons following the Vancouver Games Nesbitt dominated the World cup circuit where she won ten of 11 1000-metre races and took the world title twice. She won handily, sometimes by margins of over one second, which, in this sport might as well be one year.

The trouble began last season when Nesbitt failed to reach the podium at the World Championships, the last big test before the Olympics, finishing fourth.

The sport of speed skating is one that requires a high degree of technical skill and physical capacity. At the Olympic Games the mental component of performance emerges as the most critical. This is the major strength and edge that Nesbitt has relied on throughout her dominant years.

Ever the harsh critic of her own performance, Nesbitt thrives on intensity and aggression in her best races. Having raced against her for several years, I was always fascinated by Nesbitt’s ability to channel her emotion, whether anger, frustration or disappointment, into her performance. It gave her a shield of armour that could instill fear and disbelief in her competitors.

But as the rest of the world began chipping away at those margins of victory, new rivals emerged to challenge her lock atop the podium. Without any Canadians to share the spotlight, Nesbitt has faltered under the pressure and watched her confidence melt away with each passing race. Myriad factors have contributed to this state of affairs – the celiac disease diagnosis, technique issues, a lack of explosive power. Best known for her fast opening laps and ability to continue accelerating throughout the middle part of the race, all while maintaining near flawless technique, truly set Nesbitt apart from her competitors.

Despite Nesbitt’s recent struggles and quest to regain that snap in her powerful legs, today the question simply becomes: can she get it all back in time? If her performance in the 500 yesterday is any indication, I would say yes, it’s possible.

She had more speed in her lap than I’ve seen in a while and more importantly, she looked almost pleased when she crossed the line – a rare sight indeed.

In the sport of speed skating a skater can turn things around in an instant, like a flip of the switch in the mind that resets focus, determination and intensity. All is not lost. Nesbitt dug deep in Vancouver to win the gold even though she’d be the first to tell you it was a terrible race, despite the win.

That’s the kind of grit that separates Olympic champions from Olympic legends. She has all she needs to win deep inside – she’s proven that time and again. Such things do not disappear forever. Nesbitt must find a way to reignite that spark and fuel her passion for victory. She has one chance, one moment, to make it happen.

In the past, it was colossal mistake for anyone to underestimate Christine Nesbitt. On Thursday, on the sporting world’s grandest stage, the biggest mistake Christine Nesbitt can make is underestimating herself.

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