Christine Nesbitt heads list of Canadian speed skaters bound for Sochi
Nesbitt, Morrison among 7 with previous Olympic experience
Canada will send 17 athletes to the Sochi Winter Games who will look to build on the country's proud Olympic tradition in long track speed skating.
Christine Nesbitt and Denny Morrison are the most accomplished members of the long track team announced on Wednesday at the Calgary Oval, and are among seven who have previous Olympic experience.
Canada won five medals in long track at the Vancouver Olympics to bring the historic total to 33, more than the country has won in any other sport in the Winter Games. However, retired skaters Kristina Groves and Clara Hughes accounted for three of those medals.
Expectations for the team are tempered this time around due to those retirements, the recent struggles of the two biggest names, and a cast that includes several young skaters who may not have fully reached their peak.
Nesbitt of London, Ont., won gold at 1,000 metres at the Vancouver Olympics and was also the dominant women's skater in 2011 and 2012. She had another strong season last year, but skaters from the U.S. and the Netherlands began to challenge her supremacy.
Nesbitt feels prepared
This season, Nesbitt has yet to reach the World Cup podium. She did show promising signs at the world sprint championships in Japan last week, with a pair of fifth place showings in the 1,000.
Nesbitt is en route to Europe ahead of Sochi, but released a statement through Speed Skating Canada.
"I feel privileged being named to my third Olympic Team, each of which has been completely different for me ... I have trained hard for the past four years and there certainly have been some ups and downs," Nesbitt said. "I am very much looking forward to Sochi, and feel well prepared and supported by my coach Xiuli Wang and by the entire Speed Skating Canada team."
Morrison has won gold and silver in Olympic team pursuit, but is looking to reach the podium for the first time at the Winter Games in an individual event.
The athlete from Fort St. John, B.C., played catch-up heading into this season after a broken ankle suffered in late 2012 while cross-country skiing took several months to heal.
Morrison once held the world record in the 1,500 metres. His best showing at that distance was a fifth in Salt Lake City near the beginning of the season.
World Cup podiums this season
Three skaters on the Olympic team have reached the World Cup podium this season.
Brittany Schussler of Winnipeg, one of the stalwarts of the women's team since the transition when the previous stars retired, hit the podium in Astana, Kazakhstan this season with a bronze. She will be competing in her second Olympics, and along with Nesbitt and Ivanie Blondin, figures to be part of the women's pursuit team.
"We're going to do everything we can to represent you with lots of medals and good performances," Schussler told the gathering in Calgary.
Edmonton's Jamie Gregg, the son of former NHL defenceman Randy Gregg and his wife Kathy, a former Canadian Olympic speed skater, will compete at his second Winter Games. He's hit the World Cup podium twice in the 500 this season, and will be joined on his team by wife Danielle Wotherspoon-Gregg.
Gilmore Junio of Calgary surprised many by sharing the gold at 500 metres at Salt Lake City and could garner coverage from the Philippines, the birthplace of his parents.
While there are veterans on the team in terms of World Cup experience, all skaters but one are 28 years of age and under.
The youngest by far is Vincent De Haître. The 19-year-old arguably stole the show at the recent Olympic trials, beating all competitors at 1,000.
William Dutton, for his part, had a pair of top five showings at the Japan sprints last weekend
Canada's strongest chances at a medal could be in the team pursuit events.
Canada was upset in the event at the Vancouver Olympics in the quarter-finals by the American team. Nesbitt and Schussler, along with Groves, had set the world record just weeks earlier in Calgary, a mark that still stands.
Giroux, Makowsky and Morrison are the defending gold medallists in the men's team pursuit, but will be hard-pressed to defend with deep teams from the Netherlands and Norway looking to come out on top.
Cindy Klassen, six-time Olympic medallist, will not be back for a fourth Winter Games. She suffered a concussion in the summer and was unable to return to training in time to launch a serious bid for Sochi.
Jeremy Wotherspoon, the most decorated Canadian speed skater, launched a comeback after a few years away but could not crack the team at trials.
The individual events of the speed skating competition in Sochi run from Feb. 8 to Feb. 19. The men's and women's team pursuits begin Feb. 21, with medal races taking place the following day.
Here is the full team, with skater's age at the time of the Sochi competition:
- Ivanie Blondin, 23, Ottawa.
- Anastasia Bucsis, 24, Calgary.
- Kali Christ, 22, Regina.
- Vincent De Haître, 19, Cumberland, Ont.
- William Dutton, 24, Humboldt, Sask.
- Mathieu Giroux, 28, Pointe-aux-Trembles, Que.
- Jamie Gregg, 28, Edmonton.
- Marsha Hudey, 23, White City, Sask.
- Kaylin Irvine, 23, Calgary.
- Gilmore Junio, 23, Calgary.
- Lucas Makowsky, 26, Regina.
- Denny Morrison, 28, Fort St. John, B.C.
- Christine Nesbitt, 28, London, Ont.
- Muncef Ouardi, 27, Quebec City.
- Brittany Schussler, 28, Winnipeg.
- Brianne Tutt, 21, Airdrie, Alta.
- Danielle Wotherspoon-Gregg, 32, Red Deer, Alta.