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Japan sets women's team pursuit record at speedskating World Cup event

CALGARY — Kali Christ looked to be back in top form Saturday.

CALGARY — Kali Christ looked to be back in top form Saturday.

The Regina speedskater bounced back from a hip injury sustained last January to win bronze in the women's team pursuit with Ottawa skaters Ivanie Blondin and Isabelle Weidemann at the Olympic Oval.

"It's really exciting for me," Christ said. "It's my first team pursuit in a couple years. Just to know the team trusted me to be out there … was really awesome.

"I've had a lot of people telling me I'm skating like I used to. That's really encouraging."

Christ caught an edge on a straightaway late in the race but managed to stay on her skates, thanks in part to the stabilizing strength of her rehabilitated hip.

"It was a long process of trying different treatments, different tests, to see what was really wrong," said the 26-year-old. "It's taken me a little while to even do more than two laps in a row. "(Last season) it felt like my leg stopped working. I couldn't get the push or the power to keep going.

"It's been a long road, but it's coming along."

The Japanese trio of Miho Takagi, Ayaka Kikuchi, and Nana Takagi won gold in a world-record time of two minutes 53.88 seconds, breaking the 2:55.77 standard they set last month in the Netherlands.

Germany picked up silver.

A member of the Netherlands team fell during the race, helping Canada reach the podium.

"In a way we were a little bit lucky," said Blondin. "But even with a fourth (Saturday), I would have been extremely happy."

The Canadian men didn't fare as well. 

Benjamin Donnelly, of Oshawa, Ont., wiped out during their team pursuit, taking he and teammates Denny Morrison and Ted-Jan Bloemen out of contention.

"After the race, after the fall, we forgot about it instantly — we were joking around and having fun," said Morrison. "That's really and truly part of speed skating. Balancing on a one-millimetre thick blade going 60 kilometres an hour on a turn, you have to be in a perfect position."

The Netherlands placed first, followed by Japan and Norway.

"I talk about how pressure creates diamonds and pressure's a privilege," said Morrison, "But no diamond was created in the team pursuit. We really felt we could've broken a world record … we've trained for that tons and tons and tons. We know exactly what to do."

Morrison insisted that expectations remain high for the Canadian threesome.

"There'll be extra pressure on the next one (Dec. 8-10 in Salt Lake City)," the 32-year-old said. "But when we have a good one there and qualify our team for the Olympics, that's going to be something beautiful, something to celebrate."

Ottawa's Vincent De Haitre, meanwhile, finished just off the podium in the men's 1,000 metres, moving up to fourth after first-place finisher Russian Pavel Kulizhnikov was disqualified for a lane violation.

Dutch skaters Kai Verbij and Kjeld Nuis took gold and silver respectively while bronze went to Norway's Havard Holmefjord Lorentzen.

Alexandre St-Jean of Quebec City finished 12th.

"To finish that close to the podium, it's a little … I won't say upsetting," said De Haitre, "but you have goals and you want to reach them and you're just so close."

Canadian women qualifying for Sunday's mass-start final were Keri Morrison, of Burlington, Ont., and Blondin.

Olivier Jean, of Repentigny, Que., earned a berth on the men's side.

The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected version of an earlier story. The Japanese team finished in 2:53.88, not 2:55.77 as previously stated.