RICHMOND, British Columbia - Halfway through the race, Christine Nesbitt figured the gold medal she was supposed to win had slipped away. Her legs felt sluggish, her technique all wrong.
"This is not going well," she thought to herself.
But Nesbitt turned it all around on the final lap, erasing a deficit of more than a half-second to claim Canada's first gold at the speedskating oval in the 1,000 meters, clocking 1 minute, 16.56 seconds Thursday.
Nesbitt was pushing so hard at the end that she lost her balance, sticking out both hands to keep from falling. She hardly sounded like a winner when it was done. Maybe it was dealing with the weight of an entire nation, which counted on her to succeed Cindy Klassen as Canada's speed skating star.
Klassen won five medals at the Turin Games four years ago, including gold.
Now Nesbitt has one, too.
"I'm still reflecting a lot on my race," she said. "I know it wasn't pretty. I've skated a lot better 1,000s this year, so it's hard for me not to be critical. I am happy, but I'm kind of back and forth. Mixed emotions. I can't believe I won. I can't believe it was so close."
How close? Two-hundredths of a second over Annette Gerritsen of the Netherlands, matching the tightest finish in the history of the women's 1,000 - Bonnie Blair's 1992 victory over China's Ye Qiaobo. The bronze also went to the Dutch, claimed by Laurine van Riessen.
American Jennifer Rodriguez, who won two medals at the Salt Lake City Games, finished seventh.
"I wasn't very efficient. I was panicking. I was definitely fighting demons. I didn't feel technically good," said Nesbitt, who had won every 1,000 during the World Cup season but cut this one a little too close for comfort.
No one in the crowd was complaining.
Canada had its first gold at the Richmond Olympic Oval.
Grabbing a Maple Leaf flag for the victory lap and stealing a kiss from her boyfriend, Dutch speed skater Simon Kuipers, Nesbitt was serenaded by the band Kleintje Pils, which played "O Canada" and "We Are the Champions" while the crowd of more 7,000 rocked and rolled in a boisterous celebration.
"I didn't think the time would hold up," Nesbitt said. "When I took the victory lap, I thought, 'This is very weird.' "