RICHMOND, B.C. -
Christine Nesbitt crossed the finish line thinking she hadn't done enough to win Olympic gold. She was wrong. Nesbitt put an exclamation point on her dominating speedskating season Thursday, winning Canada's first long-track gold at the Vancouver Games with a narrow victory over world No. 2 Annette Gerritsen in the 1,000 metres.
The 24-year-old native of London, Ont., finished in one minute 16.56 seconds at the Richmond Oval.
It was Canada's third gold of the Games.
"I couldn't believe it, I did not think it was good enough," said Nesbitt. "I know (Margot) Boer is a really strong competitor and she was competing after me, and I'm sure she saw my time and thought 'That's beatable."'
But it wasn't, and Nesbitt secured the first Olympic gold of her career.
Gerritsen won silver in 1:16.58 while fellow Dutchwoman Laurine van Riessen captured the bronze in 1:16.72. Ottawa's Kristina Groves just missed out on a medal, placing fourth in 1:16.78. She won a bronze in the 3,000 metres earlier this week. Boer, from the Netherlands, ended up sixth.
Shortly after her win, Nesbitt received a call from Prime Minister Stephen Harper."
Harper was in meetings during Nesbitt's victory but told her that he heard the cheering in the next room when she won.
Nesbitt is the defending 1,000 world champion and has won all four World Cup races at the distance this season. Gerritsen is second to Nesbitt in the World Cup standings.
Nesbitt won a silver medal in the team pursuit at the 2006 Games in Turin. She was 14th in the 1,000 four years ago.
She's also among the favourites in the 1,500 on Sunday and is part of the world-record holding Canadian pursuit team that is expected to win gold next week.
Nesbitt was in the penultimate pair of the competition, accelerating in the final stretch to edge out Gerritsen for the gold. Groves went in the final pairing but couldn't crack the podium, missing out by six one-hundredths of a second.
Shannon Rempel of Winnipeg finished 21st in 1:18.174 while Brittany Schussler, also of Winnipeg, was 25th in 1:18.31
The long-track team's second medal comes a day after contender Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., finished 13th in the men's 1,000. It was a jarring result for the Canadians, making Nesbitt's performance a welcome tonic.
Pressure had been building on Nesbitt ever since her victory at the world championships last spring, and she stepped up to the challenge each time. As Nesbitt piled up her World Cup victories, it was clear she had elevated her game for this season.
Nesbitt's approach to racing is meticulous. A step-by-step plan for her 1,000 at the world championships was jotted down on a piece of paper, detailing what she should be doing at various points of her 2 1-2 laps. A relentless self-critic, she's continued refining the blueprint this season, unwilling to leave anything to chance.
A strong performance in the women's 500 on Tuesday - she was 10th in an event she uses as a warmup - showed Nesbitt was on form. And it gave her some experience with how to deal with the roaring ovations the oval crowds have given each Canadian speedskater.