CALGARY - While Jeremy Wotherspoon's Olympic comeback bid took a major hit on Saturday, several other athletes took a step closer to realizing their dreams.
On the first day of the Olympic trials for Canada's long-track speedskating team, Wotherspoon finished sixth in the men's 500 metres.
According to Sean Ireland, Speed Skating Canada's long-track program director, that won't be good enough for the four-time Olympian from Red Deer, Alta., to earn a spot to represent Canada at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
"The top four have a chance of being selected to the Olympic team," Ireland said.
Canada's Olympic long-track speedskating team, which will consist of 10 women and eight men for all disciplines, will be announced on Jan. 22.
Wotherspoon's brother-in-law Jamie Gregg, from Edmonton, finished first in the men's 500 metres with a combined two-race time of 69.15.
"The whole year I've been kind of trying to focus on Sochi, not wanting to take this for granted, but at the same time I wanted to be building through this and up into Sochi," said Gregg. "We're going to go back and train hard after this and hopefully I can do a lot better because I'm going to have to do better if I want to do what I want to do in Sochi."
Finishing in the second, third and fourth spots respectively were Calgary's Gilmore Junio (69.31 seconds), William Dutton of Humbolt, Sask. (69.38) and Quebec City's Muncef Ouardi (69.41).
Wotherspoon found himself in third spot after the first race before falling out of contention after his second 500 metres around Calgary's Olympic Oval track.
"In the first race I was almost the same time as guys who won medals the world cups in the fall," said Wotherspoon, who still holds the world record of 34.03 seconds set in Salt Lake City in 2007. "I was pretty happy to be that close. That makes it even more disappointing to have the second race that I had."
Wotherspoon said he hasn't decided whether he'll race in the men's 1,000 metres on Monday or not.
"Right now I feel a bit tired and disappointed so I have to refocus for that," said Wotherspoon, while noting that he believes both Gregg and Junio have great shots at winning medals in Sochi. "Jamie and Gilmore for sure have shots at medals in Sochi based on what they've done so far this year and what I know they're capable of. It would have been nice to go there with them as a skater."
In the women's 500 metres, Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., finished first with a two-race time of 76.45 seconds.
"This definitely makes me feel good about things," said Nesbitt, who will also compete on Monday in the women's 1,000 metres and on Thursday in the 1,500 metres. "Of course, I still have two more distances I'd like to qualify in, my best distances, so I'll see how those go."
Rounding out the top four were Marsha Hudey of White City, Sask. (76.91 seconds), Calgary's Anastasia Bucsis (76.93) and Red Deer's Danielle Wotherspoon-Gregg (77.08), who his Wotherspoon's sister and is married to Gregg.
Also on Saturday, Winnipeg's Brittany Schussler won in the women's 3,000 metres, while Mathieu Giroux of Point-aux-Trembles, Que., finished first in the men's 5,000 metres to virtually earn themselves spots at the Winter Olympics.
"I can't wrap my head around it," Schussler said. "I've been so, so nervous. I knew that that was my spot and that that was my race to win. I can't even believe it — I can't even comprehend — that that I'm going to Sochi."
A member of Canada's gold-medal winning men's pursuit team in Vancouver, Giroux said this was his best race of the season.
"The last two months I've had some back issues that were slowing down my progression," he said. "We fixed a lot of the back problems in the last month. Also, I had troubles with my skates in the straight away to get proper glide, so we fixed the inside of the boots. That helped also."