Jeremy Wotherspoon & Cindy Klassen headline start to long track speed skating season

CALGARY – Jeremy Wotherspoon of Red Deer, Alta., the most successful male long track speed skater in World Cup history, returns to competition after a one-year sabbatical on Thursday at the national team selection at the Olympic Oval.

The selection meet runs until Sunday with races starting at 10 a.m. each day local time

‘’Jeremy has been very good in training,’’ said Finn Halvorsen, Speed Skating Canada’s long track program director. ‘’It’s very impressive to see him skate as fast after a year off.’’

The first competition of the year is the team selection for the Fall World Cups. The members of Canada’s team at last season’s World Single Distance Championships have been guaranteed byes. Therefore the main battles will be for the two or three remaining spots in each distance. Due to a very strong performance of Canadian skaters on the international circuit last season, Canada has earned all five quota spots at each distance for the World Cups this season.

Canada won 27 World Cup medals last season and added a team record nine more podium finishes at the World Single Distance Championships.

Wotherspoon starts his 13th season on the national team. The sprint specialist (500 and 1,000 metres) holds the record for most World Cup wins in men’s competition at 57 and is a four-time world sprint champion, two-time world single distance champion in the 500m and a 12-time overall World Cup champion.

Others to watch on the men’s side include:

Denny Morrison, photo by Arno Hoogveld
Denny Morrison, Fort St. John, B.C.: Canada’s most successful male long track speed skater last season was Morrison. He notched his first career World Cup win with a victory in the 1,000m at the Olympic Oval. He added a silver in the 1,000m and bronze in the 1,500m at the World Single Distance Championships as well as helped Canada to silver in the pursuit. He took bronze in the 1,000m at the World Sprint Championships and ranked third in the 1,500m World Cup standings.

Arne Dankers, Calgary: Dankers enjoyed a breakthrough season last winter helping Canada to silver in the pursuit and posting fourth place finishes in the 5,000m and 10,000 metres at the World Single Distance Championships. He also beat American Olympic champion Chad Hendricks in a head-to-head showdown in the 5,000m at the worlds qualifier. Dankers holds the Canadian records in the 3,000m, 5,000m and 10,000m.

Also to watch are sprinters Mark Nielsen of Calgary, Jean-René Bélanger of Sherbrooke, Que., Mike Ireland of Winnipeg, Jeff Kitura of Langley, B.C., Vincent Labrie of St-Romuald, Que., and François-Olivier Roberge of St-Nicolas, Que., and distance skaters Justin Warsylewicz of Regina, Lucas Makowsky of Regina, Jay Morrison of Fort St. John and Steven Elm of Red Deer.

Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg, Kristina Grove of Ottawa and Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., headline a powerful Canadian women’s squad along with veteran Clara Hughes of Winnipeg.

Klassen sat out the first half of the season last year after her fantastic five medal performance at the Turin Olympics, but quickly regained her ground as one of the top racers in the world. She earned silver in the 1,500m and bronze in the 3,000m at the World Single Distance Championships and finished third overall at both the World Sprint Championships and All Around World Championships. She currently holds the world records in the 1,000m, 1,500m and 3,000m.

‘’Cindy is as fast at this time of year as she was in her Olympic season,’’ said Halvorsen.

One of the skaters chasing Klassen is Groves who continues to produce improved

Kristina Groves, photo by Arno Hoogveld
performances every season. Now in her 12th year, she is coming off a bronze medal performance in the 1,500m at the World Single Distance Championships and was third overall in the 1,500m World Cup standings.

Nesbitt produced strong performances at the start and end of her season last winter. She kicked off the Fall World Cups with six medals then concluded the year with a bronze in the 1,000m at the World Single Distance Championships.

On the sprint side, Shannon Rempel of Winnipeg broke through with her first World Cup win last winter and finished second in the 1,000m World Cup standings. She also helped Canada to the pursuit world title.

Other women to watch on the sprint side are: Kerry Simpson of Melville, Sask., and Kim Weger of Regina, while other hopefuls in the distance events along with Hughes include Michèle d’Amours of Ste-Foy, Que., Justine l’Heureux of St-Tite, Que., and Brittany Schussler of Winnipeg.

There are nine World Cup stops this season including the second stop November 16-18 in Calgary. The Olympic Oval also hosts the Canadian Single Distance Championships December 28-31. The World Sprint Championships are January 19-20 in Heerenveen, the Netherlands, the All Around World Championships February 9-10 in Berlin, the World Junior Championships February 22-24 in Changchun, China and the World Single Distance Championships March 6-9 in Nagano, Japan.