Christine Nesbitt hopes 'snap' is back for Sochi
'I'm such a different person than I was at Vancouver'
Christine Nesbitt is hoping it all comes together for at least one magical skate in Sochi.
Enjoying the Olympic experience might prove to be the even greater reward.
Nesbitt is one of Canada’s greatest winter sport athletes, and you’d be hard pressed to find a more analytical one.
At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Nesbitt won gold in the 1,000-metre race, the first ever Olympic gold for a Canadian long track speed skater on home ice. She is the world record holder in the 1,000, and was part a world record effort for Canada in the women’s team pursuit.
Yet the relentless self-critic describes that winning Olympic race as “not the prettiest,” and has described the road to Vancouver as emotionally and psychologically draining.
Fast forward nearly four years and you get the impression that the 28-year-old London, Ont., native has already internally worked through what every slip, challenge or triumph since the last Olympics has meant in the big picture.
“I’m such a different person than I was at the Vancouver Olympics,” said Nesbitt. “I’ve changed but maybe I’ve changed because of having that medal.”
This time, she’s pledging to focus on the process and skate the best she can during the upcoming World Cup season, en route to Sochi, letting the chips fall where they may with respect to results.
“It’ll allow me to enjoy it more instead of being stressed to the high heavens,” she said.
She got off to a positive start at the Canadian team trials in mid-October, winning her 500 and 1,500 metre races. She's already qualified for the 1,000 at the Sochi Games based on results last season and chose not to race at that distance.
Nesbitt may be intense — a trait she says she gets from her father — but make no mistake, she’s capable of having fun. One can easily find a YouTube video in which she can’t hold a straight face for more than a few seconds while being grilled with rapid-fire questions by a teammate.
While most elite athletes pump themselves up with fairly predictable pop or techno offerings, the skater who goes by the handle CNezzy is just as likely to get into her zone through reggae or soul legend Otis Redding.
“She can put on a tough exterior but if you sit down and talk to her, she’s great and she gives you so much advice, and she generally wants to help,” said teammate and Regina native Kali Christ.
Since Vancouver, Nesbitt has been the most dominant skater in the world at 1,000 and 1,500 meters. She broke teammate Cindy Klassen’s world record in the 1,000 at the Calgary Oval in January 2012 in a time of 1:12.48.
“She’s learned to contain those nerves and channel it better into her performances,” said another former Olympic champion teammate, Clara Hughes.
While Nesbitt said she feels less pressure heading into Sochi than Vancouver, complacency just isn’t part of her DNA.
Despite a bevy of 2012-13 podium finishes, it never once fully clicked into place last season for the type of effortless “magical” race she’s enjoyed in the past.
"I felt like I was lacking snap. I felt like a slug, for lack of a better term,” she said of her bronze medal performance in the 1,500 at the world championships, in typically ruthless fashion.
If being the face of the Canadian women’s speed skating team while juggling high expectations sounds like a load, she can look back at the summer of 2010 for inspiration. Nesbitt was shaken from a period of post-Olympic, “Is-this-all-there-is?” soul searching when she was struck by a car while cycling. She suffered a fractured elbow and badly injured knee.
In addition to the physical setback, the Canadian team was transitioning from Marcel Lacroix to Xiuli Wang at the helm. But Nesbitt came back renewed, and as a barely beatable skater.
It doesn’t eat away at her, but Nesbitt admits to disappointment that her tremendous run through 2011-12 wasn’t more widely recognized in Canadian sport circles. She was passed over in the voting for the Canadian Press’s top female athlete in those years in favour of freestyler Jennifer Heil and soccer hero Christine Sinclair.
As Nesbitt may well know, Otis Redding wrote and performed R-E-S-P-E-C-T as well as Happy Song.
She would no doubt like both songs to be fitting when all is said and done in Sochi.