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Olympic gold medallist Nesbitt wins 1,000 in world sprint championships

KEARNS, Utah - Reigning Canadian Olympic gold medallist Christine Nesbitt took one step, then two and pretty much knew Saturday's race was hers.

"I felt really powerful, and I just knew I was going to have a good first turn and from that first turn I kept building," Nesbitt said.

While American champion Heather Richardson was skating on home ice, in front of her mother and aunt, Nesbitt, from London, Ont., still was too strong to catch in the first 1,000-metre event at the World Sprint Championships.

Richardson's time of one minute 13.74 seconds wasn't too far off the national record she set on the same Utah Olympic Oval in late December.

But Nesbitt showed, at least Saturday, that she is still the one to beat.

She finished in 1:12.91, beating American Brittany Bowe (1:13.68) by nearly seventh-tenths of a second.

Nesbitt finished 12th in the 500 earlier Saturday, but made some technical changes in between races — trying to get lower and be more aggressive in the corners.

"It was nice to finish today off with a much better race, then obviously the time came when I skated well," Nesbitt said.

Can she break her own world record of 1:12.68, set a year ago?

"I'm not sure if I'll have an opportunity to take a crack at the world record," she said. "It's great if I could, but it's not my priority. My priority is Sochi (and the 2014 Olympics)."

Richardson, meanwhile, is in prime position to win the overall World Sprint title if she can avoid mistakes.

She enters Sunday, with two races remaining, in second place overall, just one-hundredth point behind Jing Yu.

Yu won last year's sprint title. She won Saturday's 500 and was sixth in the 1,000. Nesbitt was third overall, three-tenths of a point back.

Richardson accomplished her first goal — claiming her first-ever podium at this event.

She knows she could have done better than two third-place finishes.

She had a little slip on the last corner in the 500 and also at the start of the 1,000.

"There's definitely room for improvement and so that's nice," Richardson said. "I wanted to win. It's nice to finally hop up on (the podium)."

Richardson finished sixth overall at last year's sprint championships.

But the High Point, N. C. native came into this weekend's races with momentum.

She swept the 1,000-metre events at last weekend's World Cup in Calgary and set a national record last month at the Utah oval, clocking 1:13.52. At Calgary, she lowered to mark 1:13.09.

"I was definitely a little nervous," Richardson said of having the home crowd and family cheering her on.

She was thrilled to see training partner Bowe do so well in only her second year on ice.

"That was awesome," Richardson said. "I hope she can keep it up now."

Bowe acknowledges she has a long way to go but was pleased with Saturday's 1,000.

"Things have just kind of fallen into place," she said. "I've been working on my openers a lot this year, but the 1,000 allows me to really wind it up and have two good laps. ... Two personal bests today, I can't complain."

Earlier Saturday, Yu won the first 500 in 37.21 seconds.

South Korea's Lee Sang-hwa, who set a world record a week ago at a World Cup event in Calgary, was second in 37.28.

Reigning Olympic bronze medallist Joji Kato of Japan won the men's 500 in a personal-best 34.21. Teammate Ryohei Haga tied for second with Edmonton's Jamie Gregg in 34.43 seconds.

Mitchell Whitmore was the top American finisher in 34.76.

Kato has done well on the Utah Olympic Oval near Salt Lake City, setting a world record there in 2005.

Hein Otterspeer (1:07.46) of the Netherlands edged Latvia's Haralds Silovs (1:07.47) in the men's 1,000.

Dutch teammate Michel Mulder took bronze in 1:07.49.

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