Good past season for Brittany Schussler

By Jolanda Abbes - Brittany Schussler looks back on a breakthrough season. Not only did she compete at her very first World Championships, but she also improved all her personal best times in the individual distances over the past year, became a regular member of the Canadian Team Pursuit team and raced to some very good results at the World Single Distances Championships in Nagano. Consequently, she looks forward to the summer, during which she hopes to lay the foundation of yet another great season.

It has been a good past season for Brittany Schussler (23). She started out with satisfactory results at the first World Cups in November and December, and managed to improve all her personal best times along the way in those last two months of 2007. Among these improvements were some impressive ones: in the 1500m her new personal best time of 1:55.69 was an improvement of a second compared to the old one, and in the 5000m she took ten seconds off of her best time thus far and brought it down to 7:12.55. After competing at her first World Championships ever, the World All-round Championships in February in Berlin, she traveled to Nagano for the World Single Distances Championships, where she won a silver medal in the Team Pursuit and surprisingly finished sixth in the 1500m. All in all, she looks back with great satisfaction: “I look back on this season with a lot of excitement and hope. I made a decision before the year started to not have any concrete goals and just always do the best that I could every day, and in every situation, because my expectations for myself are always high so I know that no matter what my approach is, I will give 100% in my races. There were a few races where I wish I would have skated better, but they were great learning experiences and will help me in the future, so I am thankful even for those performances.”

Even though Schussler made her World Championship debut at the World All-round Championships in Berlin, she was offered the opportunity to skate at the World Sprint Championships in Heerenveen, a month earlier. Nevertheless she decided to let those Championships pass her by: “I was qualified as the first substitute for World Sprints and was given the opportunity to go because some of the other all-round girls were passing up their spots. I decided not to go because I felt that training for World All-rounds and trying to qualify a spot for the World Single Distances Championships was more important than competing at World Sprints. It was a very tough decision to pass up my first ever chance to skate at a World Championship, though!”

So instead of competing at the World Sprint Championships, Schussler decided to train for the World All-round Championships, at which she eventually finished 15th overall. Despite a satisfactory 1500m, she looks back with mixed feelings on her World Championship debut: “My first day at the World All-rounds didn't go as well as I hoped it would, probably because I was putting too much pressure on myself. However, I really feel that my 1500m on the second day was a huge breakthrough for me, even if the result didn't show it.” In this 1500m she finished 11th in a time of 2:00.11, which, combined with her 500m and 3000m times, proved to be too slow to qualify for the final distance of the competition, the 5000m. Even though Schussler looks back satisfied on her 1500m in Berlin, she is not happy with the way she executed the 500m on the first day of the competition: “I had put so much pressure on myself to have an amazing race and set myself up to try and make the 5000m. As a result I had a terrible race.” In this 500m she finished 14th in a time of 40.75.

Nevertheless, Schussler succeeded in learning from this experience and consequently took a different approach at the World Single Distances Championships in Nagano, a month after the World All-rounds: “I look back on World Singles with a lot of pride. I learned so much about myself and how I race best from World All-rounds and really tried to apply it the best that I could at World Singles.” As a result, she finished sixth in the 1500m in Nagano, in a time of 1:59.40, thereby beating for example Dutch Ireen Wüst, who was crowned World Champion in the 1500m in 2007. “I went into the 1500m at World Single Distances with no result goals in mind, just to execute the best way that I knew how. I knew that I had been racing better and better each week so if I did the things in the races that I wanted to, then a good result would come along with it. During the race I was more relaxed than I have ever been and I tried to just let my natural instincts come through instead of forcing myself to skate a really fast first lap. After the races I was shocked and absolutely thrilled with what I accomplished.” It should come as no surprise that this 1500m was the most important highlight of Schussler’s 2007-2008 season: “It gave me the confidence to know that everything I am doing and have believed in up until that point is working. It also gives me a lot of excitement and drive for this upcoming season, because I am getting closer to where I ultimately want to be.”

For Schussler, another highlight in Nagano was the silver medal for the Canadian women in the Team Pursuit, although at the same time that silver medal may have been somewhat of a disappointment after the great results of the Canadian team up until then. Together with Kristina Groves and Christine Nesbitt, Schussler raced to a time of 3:02.87, where the Dutch team skated 3:02.19, which earned them the gold medal. Schussler reflects: “The Team Pursuit at the World Single Distances Championships was a challenge for our team. With winning in Heerenveen at the World Cup Final and the overall World Cup title we had high expectations for ourselves. However, we made a lot of mistakes during the race and, because of that, we were happy with second.” Even though she acknowledges that the Team Pursuit is important, Schussler admits to the fact that for most speed skaters it comes second place to the individual distances: “As a group we train for the Team Pursuit as often as we can without letting it interfere with our own personal training. The Team Pursuit is obviously very important because it is an Olympic and World Championship event, but I am sure that every skater trains more for their individual distances than for the Team Pursuit.”

After qualifying for a World Championship for the first time, improving all her personal bests and being able to look back on some good results in Nagano, Schussler realizes she has made an important improvement over the past season: “Being able to step to the line and skate my own race, regardless of what the other girls have done, was where I made my biggest improvements this year. Technically and physically I am stronger than I ever have been, but being able to believe that my best will be enough has helped me enjoy skating more than ever and my results have gotten better because of it.”

These insights have given Schussler confidence for the future and as a result she looks forward to the summer: “I am excited to train this summer and determined to see more improvements in my dryland training which I will be able to transfer onto the ice. I want to focus on making every day the best that it can be – if it is a sprint day then I want to be as explosive as I can, if it is a biking day then I want to execute the program exactly how it is supposed to be.” And even though October may still seem far away right now, eventually these efforts should prepare her for yet another great season: “I am going to be ready for next season when it gets here and ready to try and continue climbing the rankings. For now, I am taking a break from the mental stress that racing puts on me and enjoying my summer training!”

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