Groves' parents have Olympic game faces on

By LYNNE BERMEL, OTTAWA SUN

John Groves is talking about his daughter, Kristina, one of this country’s best hopes for a Olympic medal in Vancouver.

“I don’t know how she deals with it, honestly. It’s hard to imagine what she’s going through.”

That first sentence should say multiple medals. She’s qualified in the 1,000-, 1,500-, 3,000- and 5,000-metre speed skating events, as well as team pursuit. With just a month to go until the Games, Groves, 33, has been thrust into the spotlight for a host country looking to her sport to come up with a fistful of medals.

“Every time Kristina gets on the line, she’s a medal contender,” Olympic great Catriona Le May Doan has said.

Groves has also been compared to Cindy Klassen, this country’s most decorated Olympian who won five medals at the 2006 Turin Games.

How’s that for pressure?

But for her part, Groves has downplayed expectations.

“We’ll be nervous for her,” says John, who, along with Kristina’s mother, Else, will be at the Richmond Olympic Oval, anxiously watching their daughter power her way around the track, starting on Valentine’s Day with her first event (3,000 m).

“Else tends to get more nervous,” says John, adding his wife has had to leave the living room on occasion when watching Kristina skate.

John figures it’ll be a different story in Vancouver. “I expect that we’ll get caught up with the thousands of people screaming and shouting and it’ll be over before we know it.”

For years and years, Groves was overshadowed by teammates such as Klassen and Clara Hughes. But 2009 was her year.

“Kristina didn’t have natural talent,” says John. “It’s been a slow and steady climb. She just kept plugging away.”

“I wouldn’t know how to motivate anybody to work as hard as she’s worked,” her father adds. “I’m motivated to accomplish things, but nothing like Kristina. She loves to skate and she’s driven to work hard.”

The Groves were hardcore cross-country skiers who introduced Kristina to the sport when she was a toddler. She took up speed skating at 11 with the Ottawa Pacers.

“My parents just stood back and watched. They let me do my own thing,” she says.

Groves made her Olympic debut in 2002. In Turin, she won silvers in the 1,500-metre event and team pursuit.

When she crossed the finish line in Turin, she spotted her dad’s face out of the crowd and saw him crying. “That was cool, it gave meaning to the experience.”

The Groves stay in touch on the phone or by e-mail.

“I don’t quiz her or challenge her on what she’s doing or not doing,” says John. “She has a whole battery of coaches. She sure doesn’t need any advice from me.”

Around the scene

Ottawa Fury’s Lia Blake, who plays soccer at La Salle University in Philadelphia, will play for Jamaica at the U20 level during the upcoming CONCACAF U20 championship ... Beaver Boxing Club will host Fight Night in the Capital , Feb. 6 at the Nepean Sportsplex. For more info, visit beaverboxing.ca ... The Ottawa Sports Awards will be held Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. at Algonquin College.

lynnebermel@rogers.com

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