Nesbitt takes golden turn, while Hughes, Groves add two more to Canada’s medal haul at ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships in Richmond

(Richmond, BC, March 14, 2009) – Christine Nesbitt, showing sheer grit as she drilled her power down into the ice in her final lap, took gold today in the 1,000 metres at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships.

Mere hours later, teammates Clara Hughes and Kristina Groves took silver and bronze in a thrilling 5,000m showdown with two-time defending champion Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic that had the crowd in Richmond stamping its feet in approval. The win by Groves today makes her the most decorated Canadian skater in world single distances championship history with 12 medals.

Nesbitt’s win in one minute, 16.28 seconds marks the first time a Canadian speed skater has stood at the top of the podium after three days of competition this week at the Richmond Olympic Oval. So far, Canada has won seven medals at the competition.

Germany’s Anni Friesinger took silver in the 1,000m with a time of 1:16.32, followed by Margot Boer of the Netherlands at 1:16.44 who won bronze on the slower, outer lane.

“I knew I would do two good laps today, I just didn’t know I could do them that well,” said the beaming Nesbitt of London, ON, after winning her first world title. “I didn’t expect to win; I don’t think anybody expected me to win. When I looked up (and saw my time) I was like `that’s unreal!’ It’s usually me losing by a few hundredths of a second. And then I thought `Crap! Kristina and Shannon are up next (to race).’ I knew I would be on the podium then no matter what.”

Groves, 32, of Ottawa, ON, finished ninth, while Shannon Rempel, 24, of Winnipeg, MB, who was paired with Groves in the race, finished 16th out of the field of 24.

“She’s one of our fiercest competitors we have on the team, especially on the girls’ side,” said Groves, describing Nesbitt. “She was two-arming it all the way in the 1,000m – she’s got a lot of guts.”

Making a comeback of sorts after a disappointing season, Hughes, 36, of Winnipeg, MB, looked calm and relaxed as she shaved an astounding seven seconds off the then-lead set by Renate Groenewold of the Netherlands to finish the 5,000m in a time of 7:00.54 to take the silver.

“Every lap I skated I just felt like I had the rhythm,” said Hughes, the reigning Olympic gold medallist in the 5,000m. “I knew I could do it. I knew I had the race in me it was just a matter of finding it.”

The roaring crowd also helped matters, Hughes said. “It was just amazing. When I was racing around I was thinking ‘this is pretty sweet.’ It’s going to be really special here at the Olympics.”

Sablikova took gold with a time of 6:57.84 despite being knocked off her feet just before starting the race after Japan’s Masako Hozumi plowed into her from behind. Groves finished third in 7:02.91.

Brittany Schussler, 23, of Winnipeg, MB, finished 11th.

In the gruelling men’s 10,000m race, Lucas Makowsky, 21, of Regina, SK finished 11th out of the pack of 16 skaters in a time of 13 minutes, 41.81 seconds. Makowsky was the sole Canadian in the race won by Sven Kramer of the Netherlands in a time of 12:55.32, while Norwegian Håvard Bøkko took silver with a time of 13:03.95 and Bob de Jong of the Netherlands won bronze with a time of 13:13.16.

So far, the Canadian speed skating team has won seven medals – two from Nesbitt (gold in the 1,000m and bronze in the 1,5000m) two from Denny Morrison, 23, of Fort St. John, BC, (silver in the 1,000m and bronze in the 1,500m) two from Groves (bronze in both the 3,000m and 5,000m) and one from Hughes (silver in the 5,000m) – at the Richmond Olympic Oval, where medals will be decided at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games in less than a year’s time.

Approximately 160 athletes representing 19 countries are competing at the Oval from March 12 to 15 in this last competition of the 2008–09 ISU season. Canada has a team of 15 athletes in total at the event, which is a chance for them to pre-qualify for the Games.

On Sunday – the final day of competition – the men’s and women’s 500m and pursuit races will be held.

Complete results can be found at http://www.speedskatingrichmond2009.com/

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