Brittany Schussler looking forward to the season

By Jolanda Abbes

As a member of the Canadian World Cup team last year, long track speed skater Brittany Schussler had an interesting season. She did not start out as good as she expected after the very good summer she had, but eventually she managed to end the season skating personal best times in almost every distance, thereby showing some great potential for the years to come.

Brittany Schussler, 22, looks back on a season during which she showed some impressive progress, due to the fact that she did not start out the World Cup season very well. In the end however, she was able to set a lot of new personal best times, making it a satisfactory season after all: “This past season I broke through a lot of personal barriers. My summer training went extremely well last year, but then I began the World Cup season with poor skating performances. Because of this, once the winter World Cups started I had a whole new set of goals and a different perspective on skating that allowed me to perform better than I ever had and set all new personal bests.” This new perspective eventually helped her set new personal best times in the 500m, 1000m, 1500m and 3000m in March.

Schussler is an interesting speed skater. Whereas many of her teammates specialize and qualify in just two or three specific distances, she seems to be skating as many distances as possible at the World Cups, from the 500m to the 5000m. “I am lucky in that I have the ability to qualify, or come close to qualifying, in many distances. There are some races that I prefer more than others, but I enjoy the training for both sprints and long distances and I think it is fun to race a lot and keep things changing.” Still, she does feel to be somewhat specialized in the middle distances: “I consider the 1000m and 1500m to be my best races and the ones that I focus on the most during training. As far as further specialization goes, Neal Marshall, my coach, knows exactly what I need and don't need to be my best, so I trust that what I am doing right now is what will make me the strongest in the races that I am focusing on this season.”

Despite the fact she is racing all distances, Schussler still has her favourite and less favourite ones, although she admits that these tend to change from weekend to weekend: “Usually my favourite distance is the one that I am improving the most at or racing the best. Normally, though, the 1000m is my favourite because it is the fastest and it's finished a short time after the pain starts. The 5000m is my least favourite because I am still learning how to race it a little bit and I get really scared before the race that something is going to go horribly wrong!”

It was not just this past season that brought Schussler many personal best times. During the 2005-06 Olympic season she managed to skate personal bests in most of the individual distances as well. Still, she looks back on the Olympic season with mixed feelings, and in particular the Olympic Games in Torino represent both the highlight and the greatest disappointment of her career thus far: “The highlight of my career was getting asked to go to the Olympics even though there was a good chance I wouldn't skate – and I didn't race. Oddly, that was also the biggest disappointment of my career because I had put so much time, effort and hope into racing in Torino and it was difficult not to qualify and then extremely hard to train through the Games but be sitting in the stands watching every race.” At the Olympics, Schussler was a substitute in the 1500m and the Team Pursuit and a second substitute in the 1000m.

However, since these Olympics, an entire new season has already taken place. And this was a season that did not quite start out the way Schussler expected: “The first two World Cups of the season were a big disappointment for me because I had been training really well and expected great results but I ended up racing quite poorly.” But fortunately, she was able to improve herself as the season progressed, leading her to better results during the second half of the season. “For me, the highlight of this past season was the Heerenveen sprint World Cup in the winter, because that is when I really made changes and started racing with the same mindset as I train.”

But this post-Olympic season has come to an end as well, and now the time has come to look forward to the next season and even to the seasons after that, leading up to the Olympic Games in Vancouver in 2010.

Schussler is looking forward to the season a lot, but is reluctant to name any concrete goals she has set for herself: “I don't have any placing or time goals for this season, I only want to continue to perform like the skater I know that I can be, instead of racing below my abilities. As long as I do that, I am confident that the times and results will be what they should be.” For the years after next season it is even harder for Schussler to name any specific goals: “I haven't decided anything about my goals for the upcoming years yet! I am taking things year by year and with every change that gets made, I set new goals for myself. I believe that focusing on what I can do right now will set me up better for the future, and the Olympics, than thinking about what I want to do when I get there, but not being sure how to do it.” This approach implies as well that she will not specialize in any specific distances too soon: “I don’t want to stop training for and racing a distance until I am sure that I will not get any better at it. As we get closer to the Games, Neal and I will re-evaluate everything and decide what the best plan will be.” Eventually, this approach should lead Schussler to qualification on the Olympic team in 2010.

From the looks of it now, the Canadian long track speed skating team will be very strong in 2010, making it hard for most speed skaters to earn a spot on the Olympic team. However, Schussler looks forward with a strong belief in herself and her own abilities: “There are many young girls aspiring to go to Vancouver and obviously there are many women on the team right now with World Cup and World Championship medals. But I do hope to qualify! The Games are still far away and so much can happen between now and then, but I would train as hard as I do if I thought there was zero chance of qualifying, because I love skating and training and my training group. I think it is important to believe in myself and to believe that the training is getting me closer to my dreams and goals. So even though qualifying will be very difficult, I believe that I have a good shot at competing in 2010.”

So despite the fact that Schussler looks back on a disappointing start of the previous season, she managed to end her season with personal best times in most distances, making it a satisfactory season for her after all. As a result, she is really looking forward to this season and the seasons after that: “This last season I achieved many of the goals that I had set before it started and I left the 2006-2007 season very satisfied and excited for the years to come!”