ALBERTA

Olympic champion Christine Nesbitt takes a break from speedskating to heal

09/25/2014 06:18 EDT | Updated 11/25/2014 05:59 EST
CALGARY - Christine Nesbitt hasn't laced up her speed skates since the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and isn't sure when she will again.

The former Olympic champion in the 1,000 metres isn't retiring, but she's delayed the start of her season. Nesbitt might not race at all this winter.

The 29-year-old from London, Ont., is rehabilitating her left leg which essentially gave out on her in the months leading up to the Winter Games in February.

Nesbitt captured Olympic gold in the 1,000 metres in 2010 and set a world record in the distance two years later. She's won the 1,000 at the world single-distance championship three times.

A consistent podium finisher in World Cups, Nesbitt's performance suddenly went sideways in the months leading into Sochi where she finished ninth in the 1,000.

"I have no idea when I'll be back skating," Nesbitt told The Canadian Press on Thursday. "It could be this season. The plan is to come back, but it just depends on how my body heals.

"Last year, I pushed myself far beyond what I should have, but it was an Olympic season. I still view it this way. I had no option. I couldn't take the year off."

She believes the years of skating counter clockwise around ovals and leaning into her left leg simply took their toll at the worst possible time.

"We're still not really able to pinpoint what it was," Nesbitt said. "We do think it was an overuse injury, so many years of being in that skating position and pushing my body really hard.

"When you lose strength and co-ordination in that leg, when you're turning left, you have so much more pressure on it than you do on your right leg in a crossover. That's why I was losing my balance in races.

"I just wore out some parts of my body and they just were never given enough time to regenerate and heal and for the complementary muscles and tendons to get stronger and support the speedskating muscles."

The 11-member Canadian long-track team announced Thursday by Speedskating Canada was smaller in number than in previous years, although 20 athletes were named to the national development team.

After producing a combined 13 medals in the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics, Canada's long-track team won two in Sochi. Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., won silver in the 1,000 and bronze in the 1,500.

Nesbitt was among four women named to the team alongside Ottawa's Ivanie Blondin, Regina's Kali Christ and Calgary's Kaylin Irvine.

Morrison, Calgary's Gilmore Junio, Winnipeg's Tyler Derraugh, Laurent Dubreuil of Levis-Saint-Etienne-de-Lauzon, Que., Regina's William Dutton, Jamie Gregg of Edmonton and Alexandre St-Jean of Quebec City make up the men's squad.

Two-time Olympian Anastasia Bucsis of Calgary is taking the year off. Winnipeg's Cindy Klassen, winner of five medals in 2006, did not compete last season because of concussion symptoms and will also not race this winter.

Trials for Canada's World Cup teams will be Oct. 23-26 in at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, which is also the site of the 2015 world all-around championships March 7-8.

Nesbitt says it's possible she could be back racing in December. She's prepared to hang up her skates for the winter if that's what it takes to return to racing and be ready for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeonchang, South Korea.

"This is the least important year in a four-year cycle, so I need to make sure I can get my body healthy so I have three excellent years of training leading up to the following Olympics, and being healthy for those Olympics," she said.

Nesbitt stayed away from speedskating training over the summer. To strengthen parts of her body, Nesbitt spent the summer rowing, swimming and "doing sports that I either really suck at or I haven't really done in a long time.

"I'm a terrible swimmer," she continued. "I sink like a rock and I'm scared of putting my face in the water. I'm just thrashing around, but it's a good challenge mentally as well as physically.

"Speedskating is a really imbalanced sport. We're bottom-heavy and we only turn left. We have a huge amount of asymmetry. A huge part of getting healthy is re-balancing, getting more upper-body strength, getting more symmetry from my left side to my ride side and doing sports that open up my chest instead of crouch me over."

Nesbitt is studying geography at the University of Calgary and meets regularly with her medical and sport science team for treatment and assessment.

"The last six weeks I've seen a huge improvement in my body," Nesbitt said. "That's exciting, but I've had moments this summer when I've felt really good and pushed it for a week and it has set me back.

"I've had to learn to be patient with my body, which is not something I'm usually very good with."

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