Strong First Day for Team Canada at World Allround Championships

Canadian speed skaters had a strong showing today on their home ice at the Calgary Olympic Oval, for the World Allround Championships. Christine Nesbitt (London, ON) was Canada’s top skater, winning the 500m race. She currently sits in second place of the overall ranking, 0.29 points behind Ireen Wüst of the Netherlands. The ice is fast at the Calgary Olympic Oval, and a majority of skaters, including the Canadians, are lowering their personal bests.

Christine Nesbitt skating at World Allround Championships, Photo: Arno Hoogveld
Nesbitt’s victory came in the first event of the day. She crossed the 500m finish line in 37.72, 14 hundredths of a second faster than her previous best time in the distance. Karolina Erbanovà of Czech Republic was second in 38.22 and Wüst took third place with a time of 38.53. Winnipeg’s Brittany Schussler was the next best Canadian in the distance, with time of 39.24 good for 9th place. Cindy Klassen (Winnipeg, MB) followed in 10th place (39.25) and rookie Ivanie Blondin (Ottawa, ON), taking part in her first senior World Championship competition, finished 16th in 40.05, besting her previous personal record by 0.20 second.

All Canadian women were hoping for fast time in the women’s 3000m race in order to remain in good position in the overall rankings. Klassen was the top Canadian when she skated her season’s best time of 4:02.55, good for sixth place. Czech skater Martina Sablikova won the race in 3:55.55, followed by Wüst (3:58.01) and Germany’s Stephanie Beckert (4:00.77). Christine Nesbitt finished her race with a personal best time of 4:03.44, good for 8th place.

“I can’t say I’m happy with the race,” said Nesbitt afterwards. “It’s a personal best, but physically, it’s not the best race I’ve had, I think maybe I was too relaxed. I’m still hoping to get on the overall podium, but I know the 5000m is my weakest event so I’ll have to give it my all tomorrow and be really strong especially in the 1500m.” Nesbitt is planning to use the fast ice to her advantage tomorrow for another personal best and perhaps World Record time in the 1500m.

Brittany Schussler took 11th place in the 3000m with her time of 4:04.23 while Blondin impressed with a 4:07.86, almost 4 seconds better than her previous fastest time in the distance. This put Blondin in 16th place of the distance.

The overall rankings are fairly tight right now, with Wüst currently sitting in first place, closely followed by Nesbitt. Sablikova, the defending champion of two years now and a specialist of the 5000m distance, is third. Cindy Klassen, who has won the World Allround Championships twice in 2003 and 2006 is in fifth place, Schussler is 9th and Blondin 18th. The top twelve ranked skaters after tomorrow’s 1500m race will get to skate the 5000m with hopes to become the 2011 World Allround Champion.

“These girls all really want the win,” explained Canadian coach Xiuli Wang afterwards. “I think whoever can be the strongest both mentally and physically will take the title. At this point, everything’s possible.”

Canadian men all had very encouraging results in the 500m, which is normally their weakest distance at this Championships. All three skaters achieved personal bests today. Lucas Makowsky (Regina, SK) was the fastest in 35.76, lowering his previous best time by almost 0.4 seconds and finishing 6th. Mathieu Giroux (Pointe-aux-Trembles, QC) completed the distance in 36.27 for 11th place and Justin Warsylewicz (Regina, SK) finished 16th (36.60). The race was won by American Shani Davis in 35.08. Teammate Brian Hansen was second (35.33) and Konrad Niedzwiedzki of Poland finished third in 35.35.

The last distance in contention today was the men’s 5000m and the victory went to Russian skater Ivan Skobrev in 6:10.99. Koen Verweij of the Netherlands was second with a time of 6:12.20 and third place went to Havard Bokko of Norway (6:12.98). Canadian Lucas Makowsky had a strong showing in 6:26.73, good for 15th position. Mathieu Giroux completed the race in 6:34.29, finishing 18th, and Justin Warsylewicz is 23rd (6:37.54).

Verweij currently sits on top of the men’s overall ranking, closely followed by Skobrev and Jan Blokhuijsen of the Netherlands. Halfway through the competition, Makowsky is in 10th place, Giroux 17th and Warsylewicz 21st.

Races resume at 12:30pm tomorrow at the Calgary Olympic Oval, with the 1500m races. Later in the afternoon, the top 12 women will get to race the 5000m while the top 12 men will battle it out in the grueling 10 000m.