Groves Speeds to Bronze Medal

The Richmond Oval had good reason to be raucous yesterday. Three of this country’s finest speed skaters gave it their all in the 3,000-metre endurance event – and one of them went home with a medal.

Kristina Groves captured bronze, her third career Olympic medal, and in so doing won Canada’s second medal of these Games. As the bell sounded marking the last lap, the Richmond crowd roared in support and the Ottawa native seemed to feed off of the noise, turning it on and blasting toward the finish line.

“I had goose bumps before my race from hearing the crowd cheering,” said Groves. “I still have them!”

Her time of 4:04.84 stood up after the final two skaters finished and Groves was jubilant, knowing the medal came in a race not her specialty. Groves is to skate five events inside the Oval, and arguably just hit the podium in the most difficult one (though a case could be made for the 5,000 m).

Canada’s flag bearer Clara Hughes had a terrific race, adapting her strategies for an event that is actually not as long as she would prefer. Hughes is reigning Olympic 5,000 m champion, and at about the point the 3,000 m finishes, Hughes would typically be finding her groove. In any event, yesterday she slowly built the pace and from mid-race started pulling away from her pairing skater. Hughes sped past the finish line in silver medal position with four skaters left to go. Her time was good for fifth place.

Earlier, Cindy Klassen showed that clearly her strategy was to start strong, as she set a pace in the first two laps that blew away the competition. With the crowd firmly behind her, Klassen’s pace began slowing in the final laps and she finished for 14th spot.

Groves won two silver medals in Turin four years ago. Sunday, she ritualistically travelled to the Richmond Oval by bicycle. Let’s hope that bicycle is well oiled in the days to come, as she has the opportunity to put a major stamp on Vancouver 2010.