Le May Doan will race Saturday at World Cup despite back injury

After a light practice at the M-Wave, site of her fist Olympic triumph, long track speed skater Catriona Le May Doan of Saskatoon announced Wednesday she is ready to race at the season opening World Cup for sprinters on Saturday despite a painful back injury.

Le May Doan, the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 500-metres, experienced lower back pain about a month ago caused by an irritation around a disk. The inflammation is now subsiding but when she steps to the line on Saturday it’ll be her first full out race in the 500 since the injury appeared

"The back is not too bad and I’ll take a day off tomorrow (Thursday) and that should help," said Le May Doan, 31, the current world record holder in the 500. "I’m going in not feeling totally comfortable. I’m use to being well prepared for every race and I’ve never dealt with an injury like this. It gives me something to think about. I don’t like the pain, but I have to realize that the next couple of weekends are a set-up for the rest of the year and towards the world championships."

Injured or not it’ll be hard to top last season. Le May Doan won the Olympic, world sprint and World Cup titles in the 500. She ran streak of 20 straight victories in the 500 over two seasons which ended when she placed second in the final World Cup race of the year.

It was a busy off-season for Le May Doan. She criss-crossed Canada and also travelled to the U.S., and Costa Rica for speaking engagements. And she wrote a book called "Going for Gold’ (published by McClelland and Stewart) about her road to Olympic glory. Despite the rumours, she won’t confirm this is her last season on the national team.

"I really don’t know at this point," she said. "It would be too much pressure to say this is my last year. I’ll think about it once the season is done."

Krisy Myers of Calgary and Kim Weger of Regina are the other Canadian women at the World Cup.

Meanwhile Jeremy Wotherspoon of Red Deer, Alta., has appeared very strong in training leading up the World Cup. Wotherspoon, 26, now has 39 World Cup medals in his career for third all-time. He is on track to catch this season Uwe-Jens May of East Germany who leads with 48 career medals. American Dan Jansen is second at 46.

Head coach Sean Ireland says Wotherspoon has put his Olympic disappointment behind him. Last season Wotherspoon earned his fifth consecutive 1,000-metre World Cup crown and fourth title in five years in the 500 along with world sprint gold.

"Jeremy is a person who has a great perspective," said Ireland. "He’s able to see sport and life for what it is and he hasn’t let the Olympics affect him this year. His athletic career is moving right along and he’s looking great."

One of Wotherspoon’s top opponents is Mike Ireland of Winnipeg who won seven World Cup medals last season and was fourth overall in both he 500 and 1,000 metre standings. Also on the men’s team are veterans Jason Parker of Yorkton, Sask., Kevin Marshall of Coquitlam, B.C., and Éric Brisson of Ste-Foy, Que., along with rookies James Monson and Sterling Sobczak, both of Winnipeg.

There are five stops on the World Cup sprint circuit this season. The world sprint championships are January 18-19 in Calgary and the world single distance championships conclude the season March 14-16 in Berlin. The Canadian championships are January 3-6 in Calgary.