Groves sets the tone for Canada on the oval

Robin
Robin Short
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OLYMPICS/SPEEDSKATING

Nobody can be that nice, that talented, that ... well, that so darn sweet.

Clara Hughes is Canada's Miss Everything. Athlete extraordinaire with gold, silver and bronze medals in the Winter Olympics, and a pair of cycling bronze trinkets from the Summer Games.

She carries Olympic flags without even a hint of trepidation or complaint, is an officer in the Order of Canada, is involved with Right to Play helping children in disadvantaged countries and probably saves kittens from animal shelters and bakes cookies, too.

Groves was "super-shocked" at her bronze medal. - Photo By The Canadian Press

Richmond, B.C. - Nobody can be that nice, that talented, that ... well, that so darn sweet.

Clara Hughes is Canada's Miss Everything. Athlete extraordinaire with gold, silver and bronze medals in the Winter Olympics, and a pair of cycling bronze trinkets from the Summer Games.

She carries Olympic flags without even a hint of trepidation or complaint, is an officer in the Order of Canada, is involved with Right to Play helping children in disadvantaged countries and probably saves kittens from animal shelters and bakes cookies, too.

But Hughes, perpetually smiling, turns very serious when discussing Kristina Groves's bonze-medal race in the 3,000 metre long track speedskating event Sunday.

"This is the beginning for our team," Hughes said Sunday. "This is setting the tone for our team... this is setting the tone."

How's that for a vote of confidence to a nation longing to win a gold on home turf. Not to mention a salvo across the bow of the Europeans.

The Canadian long track speedskaters grabbed eight of 24 medals Canada won four years ago in Turin. This team, bouyed by nearing $4 million in funding this year, should be just as strong.

Groves, the 33-year-old from Ottawa, managed to hang on to the three-spot after German Daniela Thoms-Anschutz came up three one-hundreds of a second short in the final race of the day.

Hughes finished out of the medals in the fifth position, while Cindy Klassen was 14th.

Ireen Wust of the Netherlands, the reigning gold medallist from 2006, also raced in the last event of the day, but had to settle for seventh after running out of gas.

"It feels really great because I thought I was going to be fourth or fifth," Groves said. "I was super shocked and surprised when my time stood up.

"It's a cool feeling to go from fourth or fifth in your mind, and the next thing it's bronze," she said. "I had the best race if could. I feel really good with how I skated, but this was more than I expected. Six, seven or eight girls, I thought, could have been on the podium."

The best part for Groves and Canadian Olympic watchers is the 3,000 isn't even her strongest event. That's the 1,500 metres, the event in which she won one of her two silver medals in Torino. In fact, Groves is a likely contender in all her events, which also includes the 1,000, 1,500 and 5,000 metres and team pursuit.

So could we witness another Klassen-like performance, when the Winnipeg skater, now slowed by surgically-repaired knees, won five medals in Torino?

"I just focused on this race," Groves said, reciting the ol' one-game-at-a-time bit. "You go into Olympic Games one race at a time. One race is finished so now it's time to turn attention to the next."

A boisterous crowd of 6,558 flocked to the new 400-metre Richmond Olympic Oval, a $178 million building that used one million board feet of B.C. pine-beetle-killed wood.

"Even warming up, the crowd was so loud it provided energy," Klassen said. "I nearly had tears in my eyes."

Added Hughes: "I remember thinking, 'I'll never have this feeling again after these Games.' You can't explain it, that tunnel of energy. You're on blades, coming out of the corner, it's a beautiful feeling."

rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Richmond Olympic Oval

Geographic location: Canada, Turin, Ottawa Netherlands Winnipeg

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