ALBERTA

Speedskater Kali Christ seizes opportunity to race against the best

10/18/2013 08:34 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST
CALGARY - Kali Christ isn't taking her bye at the Canadian speedskating trials.

The 21-year-old from Regina and Olympic champion Christine Nesbitt were the only speedskaters who knew before trials they were assured of spots on Canada's World Cup team this fall.

Christ (pronounced Krist) doesn't have to race Saturday's 1,500 metres at the Olympic Oval, but she is. She had already earned her spot on the World Cup team in that distance by placing fifth in the world single distance championships in March.

But this is an important season of racing with the Olympic team trials on the horizon in December, followed by the Winter Olympics in February. Christ doesn't want to pass up a race.

"It'll be really good to get it in," Christ said Friday after racing the 1,000 metres. "I think it takes some of the pressure off, but I try to go into most of my races with an analytical approach and focus on what I need to do."

Nesbitt, the reigning Olympic champion in the 1,000 metres, was pre-qualified for the World Cup team in that distance and the 1,500 metres.

The 28-year-old from London, Ont., was fourth in the 1,000 and took bronze in the 1,500 at the single distance championships, which were held at the Olympic venue in Sochi, Russia.

Nesbitt took her free play Friday and didn't race the 1,000, but will join Christ in the 1,500 metres on Saturday. The two women are scheduled to race each other in the final pairing.

"You race her in trials, she's been world champion, Olympic champion, world-record holder," Christ said. "You race against her at trials and then anybody else you race at World Cups, you're like 'I got this.'

"I've only been in a pairing with her once and that was last year at World Cup trials in the winter. I had a pretty quick start. I wasn't ready to be that close to her. It kind of took me by surprise. Now that I've got that out of my system, I think it would be really cool to race against her again."

Nesbitt had time and space to develop behind Canadian speedskating stars Clara Hughes, Cindy Klassen and Kristina Groves prior to winning Olympic gold in the 1,000 in 2010.

Nesbitt is now providing that kind of cover for Calgary's Kaylin Irvine and Christ, who finished first and second respectively in the 1,000 Friday.

"She's given me so many pointers," Christ said. "She's been wonderful."

Canada's World Cup team will be selected from the top-five finishers in each distance at trials with the exception of the men's 5,000 and 10,000 metres, in which only three will qualify.

The trials conclude Sunday at Calgary's Olympic Oval with the women's 5,000 metres and the men's 10,000 metres.

There are four World Cups before the Olympic team trials Dec. 28 to Jan. 3. Calgary's Olympic Oval hosts the first World Cup of the season Nov. 8-10.

Christ is starting her third season of racing with the national team. Because of her breakout result at the world single distance championships in Sochi, she's no longer flying under the radar at World Cups.

"Because of my fifth-place finish at the world championships, there is a kind of spotlight on me on the World Cup circuit now," Christ said. "It'll be a good learning process to learn to deal with the pressure. I've never really had that before."

Irvine, Christ, Winnipeg's Brittany Schussler and Heather McLean will join Nesbitt in the women's 1,000 metres.

Top men's sprinter Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., isn't racing the 1,000 or the 1,500 metres at trials because of a rib injury. He's applied for an injury exemption to the World Cup team.

"I don't want to potentially prevent it from healing by racing," Morrison said. "I could still race on it and I still could race and qualify, but I talked with my sport team and coaches and everyone agrees I don't want this injury to linger all season long.

"I want to take a week off of racing, get over it and perform at my full potential for World Cups and the Olympics."

Edmonton's Jamie Gregg won the men's 1,000 following his victory in the 500 metres the previous day. William Dutton of Humboldt, Sask., was runner-up to Gregg on Friday after finishing third in the 500.

Calgary's Gilmore Junio, Winnipeg's Tyler Derraugh and Laurent Dubreuil of Levis, Que., finished third to fifth respectively in the 1,000.

Four-time Olympian Jeremy Wotherspoon, who has come out of a three-year retirement to race again, was disqualified in the men's 1,000. He kicked lane dividers wide rounding a turn, which is against the rules.

"They consider that changing lanes in the wrong part of the track," Wotherspoon said. "When I used to skate, it was allowed. It was a new rule and I kicked them and I thought I was probably getting disqualified."

The 36-year-old from Red Deer, Alta., intends to return to the Oval in December for the Olympic trials.

"Now that I've done a couple weekends of racing, I have an idea of what's OK and what can be better," he said. "It's easier to make a plan now going forward.

"I think it's really important for me now to stay patient and do the right work with the right quality and right focus and bring that into my racing."

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