It will always be the speed-skating oval of her dreams. But if Kristina Groves allows herself an extra moment to gaze a little more closely upon Oval Lingotto, she might discover a different kind of roundness in its edges.
And with it, a sense of a speed-skating career that has truly come full circle.
On a glorious night for Canada -- at least away from the hockey rink -- Ottawa's silver belle of the Turin Games found herself on the second step of the Olympic victory podium. That it happened in the women's 1,500 metres event ... well, the irony of it all is oh too rich.
Ask Groves about her humble beginnings in the sport that has now brought her nationwide fame and she'll quickly point to a race of exactly the same distance.
"I remember watching Gaetan Boucher on television at the (1988) Olympics in Calgary," Groves told this columnist a few years back. "He was on world-record pace in the 1,500 (metres), and then he blew up on the last lap and didn't win. But I was still inspired by the story."
Inspired enough that, almost the very next day, Groves was trying it out for herself in a way that can only be described as very Ottawa-ish.
"My mom (Else) found me an old pair of skates and we went down to the canal," she said. "It was minus-30 out and the skates were half the size of my foot. But when we came off the ice, I said to my mom 'that's what I want to do.' "
And so began Groves' long and winding trail to Olympic glory, one that has taken her to, of all places, Calgary and -- still more irony -- the very keen ice surface that supplied the spark for this splendid story.
Isn't it interesting, too, that Groves can now call herself the first Ottawan to win an individual Winter Olympic medal since figure skater Elizabeth Manley at those same 1988 Calgary Games?
There are only four in all -- figure skater Barbara Ann Scott in 1948 in St. Moritz, and alpine skier Anne Heggtveit, in Squaw Valley in 1960, are the others -- and now Groves can call herself part of this exclusive, special group from the capital.
Her two silver medals in Turin -- the other came last week in the team pursuit -- are, if anything, a tribute to dedication and perseverance. She takes joy in the journey, with last night's singular achievement the exclamation point at the end of it all.
GREAT WORK ETHIC
It has always been that way, since her formative days with Ottawa Pacers speed skating club. Yes, Groves always had talent but, perhaps more importantly, the necessary work ethic and an ability to see progress in even the smallest of steps.
"It's her personality," Dave Morrison, her first coach with the Pacers, told the Team 1200 yesterday. "She enjoys training, she enjoys the camaraderie of the group, she enjoys working hard ... that's what made the difference for her."
Now, all these years later, here she is. Right there in the same place as the legendary Boucher, a speed skater from Canada with an Olympic medal to call her own.
And not in the 3,000 metres, the distance she always believed to be her best. The race that demands diligence and endurance and, quite frankly, might best suit her personality.
"There's nothing in me that points to me being a sprinter at all," she once told the Sun, laughing at the mere thought of it. "Everything about me -- my personality, the way I train -- makes it seem like I should be a distance skater."
Funny, then, that it was one of those sprints -- the 1,000 metres earlier this week, in which she finished fifth -- that set Groves up perfectly for last night's moment.
"After I did the 1,000," said Groves yesterday, "I knew I still had a good last lap in me."
Then one more. A sweet, memorable tour around Oval Lingotto with golden girl Klassen, the red maple leaf held aloft proudly between them.
Kristina Groves couldn't stop smiling through it all.
Then again, given the twists and turns this tale has taken through the years, isn't this where she was meant to be?
This race, this distance.
Consider the circle complete.
Ottawa athletes who have won individual medals at the Winter Olympics:
- 1948, St. Moritz -- Barbara Ann Scott (gold, figure skating)
- 1960, Squaw Valley -- Anne Heggtveit (gold, alpine skiing)
- 1988, Calgary -- Elizabeth Manley (silver, figure skating)
- 2006, Turin -- Kristina Groves (silver, long-track speed skating)