Christine Nesbitt: Canada’s self-critical sweetheart

Gold is great, but to her, it wasn’t perfect

In Christine Nesbitt’s world, you don’t win gold, you lose platinum.

And the mere fact that such an honour doesn’t actually exist at the Olympics didn’t stop her from beating herself up over her clutch win in the women’s 1,000m today. Skating in front of a raucous home crowd, the 24-year-old from London, Ont. topped the podium with a time of 1-minute, 16.56 seconds, edging out Annette Gerritsen of the Netherlands by just two one-hundredths of a second. Laurine van Riessen, also of the Netherlands, took the bronze.

You see, on the World Cup circuit this season, Nesbitt never lost a race. Indeed, she won most of them in a walk. And to say she is a perfectionist at heart is a gross understatement.

So, just squeaking out a victory, no matter how exciting, amazing and inspiring it was for the rest of the country, wasn’t quite good enough for her. And pretty much the moment she stepped down from the victory podium, Nesbitt started providing chapter and verse on why her gold medal performance was one of the worst races of her career.

“As much as I was fortunate enough to win Olympic gold, this was probably my worst 1,000m race of the year,” she said. “I’m really lucky.”

From the starting gun, Nesbitt said she never felt right. She slipped on about her third stride. Coming out of the first corner, she found herself ahead of the other skater in her pairing, Monique Angermuller of Germany, and started to relax—then saw her time, 18.36 over the first 200m, putting her in 15th place.

“I was panicking,” she said. “I was definitely fighting demons.”

“I didn’t feel technically good. I was, ‘Oh, no!’ I’m not having a good race. I’m not even going to be on the podium.”

At the next split, the 600m mark, she was in 9th place, and sweating it even more.

“I knew I wasn’t skating very well. I almost felt like with a lap to go the crowd fell silent when they saw how far behind I was.” (If that was indeed true, Nesbitt was the only one to notice. It was so loud inside the Richmond Oval that you could barely hear yourself think.)

So, faced with certain doom—or an acute sense of pickiness—Nesbitt turned on the jets over the last 400m. At the lane change on the final curve, she chased down Angermuller, and blew right past her. Then, she burned rubber down the final straightaway, crossing the finish line with an awkward toe kick.

Nesbitt looked peeved after the race. She said she was certain the time wasn’t going to be enough to win. And all through the final pairing of the day—her teammate Kristina Groves and Margot Boer of the Netherlands—she stewed in the infield. But Groves’ time of 1:16.78 was only good enough for fourth. Boer came sixth. And Nesbitt was the country’s newest golden girl.

Ugly? Perhaps, but Canada will take it.

And lest you worry that Nesbitt might be taking this winning thing a little hard, she did allow some measure of satisfaction at the accomplishment.

“I’ve been working really hard, not just physically, but mentally, and that’s what carried me through,” she said. “I’m really proud of myself. A year ago, two years ago, there’s no way—I wouldn’t have had that same drive.”

On Sunday, the new Olympic champion gets to go through it all again, squaring off against the world number-one ranked Groves in the 1,500m.

Another chance at glory, and another chance to find fault.

“I love criticizing myself,” Nesbitt allows.

Keep it up, it appears to be working.