Speed skater finds short cut to Nagano
By John Intini
For most Olympic athletes, the dream of going for gold begins around the age of three. For Susan Massitti, a Canadian long-track speed skater, the Olympic dream began at the grand old age of 33.
Massitti, a resident of Calgary, Alberta, who works at the University of Calgary as a physical therapist, has been on the national Canadian speed skating team since 1995. Interestingly, this year her first trip as an athlete to the Olympics marks only her sixth year in the sport.
"My skating story got a pretty late start in comparison to most of the athletes in the Olympics," Massitti said. "Most of the people on the team have been skating with clubs for 15 or 20 years. I consider myself very fortunate to have this opportunity after such a short time."
Massitti's road to the Nagano Olympics, although short, has included a number of thrilling and interesting trips. She went to the University of Queensland in Australia to complete her master in Physical Therapy in 1993. Upon returning, Massitti had some great success in a sport she feels has improved immensely in Canada over the last 10 years. At one time she held the Canadian record in the 1500-metre (2:03.33) and 3000-metre (4:25.20) only recently beat during this season.
For Massitti, making the Olympics was not a reality for the 1994 Lillehammer Games since she didn't make the national team until 1996. During the summer of that year, Massitti went to Atlanta for the Summer Games, acting as the physical therapist for the Canadian Olympic swim team.
"Being part of the athlete village in Atlanta was an incredible rush," she said. "But I know that this Olympics will be so much bigger since I'll actually have the chance to compete."
In 1982, Massitti, who was an avid cross-country skier, tested her luck in the Canadian Biathlon Championships and surprised the field with a second-place finish at the national meet. However, even after the great success, Massitti would quit the sport three months later. "I loved the cross-country skiing part of the sport but just hated the idea of shooting a gun," she said.
In preparing for this Olympics, Massitti experienced a minor set-back in December when she came down with a flu which impeded her two to six-hour a day/six-days-a-week workout, keeping her away from the sport for a couple of weeks.
"The flu really slowed me down," she said. "Luckily my coach [Mike Marshall] has really got me back in form and although I'm not in the greatest shape ever, I'm ready."
Massitti will compete in the 3000-metre and 5000-metre events and feels that although she won't be in contention, the inclusion of the new "Klap" skate, which allows for more contact with the ice, will be the catalyst in shattering most world records.
"The new skates have been met with a great deal of controversy since they have greatly advanced the sport and given skaters an incredible boost," she said. "Records will be falling all over the place since this is the first time the skates are part of the authorized equipment."
Massitti realizes that time is not on her side and admits her age forces her to take the Olympics even more seriously then some of her younger teammates.
"I know that at 34, my chances of competing again are unrealistic and although I am well aware that I am not going to be standing on the podium, I just hope to put in a personal best," she said.
And as for the importance of the Olympics, Massitti has put things into perspective. "It's important to try and look at Nagano as another meet on the tour but it is tough to kid yourself this is the Olympics. I think it will truly set in when I hear 'O Canada' for the first time."