Canada seeks 1-2 finish in women's 1,500

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency


Christine Nesbitt, pictured, and Kristina Groves could produce a 1-2 finish for Canada if all goes well in Sunday's women's 1,500-m speed skating event. (QMI AGENCY file photo)

RICHMOND, B.C. — OK, maybe we jumped the gun a bit on this whole Own the Podium thing.

Seems the Red, White and Blue is having something to say about that.

But if there is one day, one event, where Canadians should be able to claim ownership of at least two of those three platforms, it is in Sunday’s long-track speed skating event, the women’s 1,500 metres.

If this were a horse race, it’d be a Canadian pick ’em.

Two of Ontario’s finest, thoroughbreds Christine Nesbitt and Kristina Groves, will be at the start line, having won between them four of the five races on the World Cup circuit this season.

Irene Wust of the Netherlands is the only skater to break the Canadian hold on the distance.

Lurking in the background is Winnipeg’s Brittany Schussler, ranked fifth with one podium finish this season.

A podium sweep is probably too much to ask Sunday.

A one-two Canadian finish is not.

“We both look forward to that race,” Groves said. “We had great results in that race in the past. We know there’s a lot of expectations placed on our team, in terms of results. We just hope we can fill the shoes.”

So far, so good.

Groves lived up to her potential in the 3,000, taking bronze, while Nesbitt won the 1,000 race she was expected to.

“We’re right on par with the girls,” Canadian coach Marcel Lacroix said.

Now, a chance for the first double-medal haul of these Games.

Too much pressure?

Nah, they’ve already proven they can handle it; Groves as far back at Turin, where she exploded onto the scene with a silver in this event, behind only Cindy Klassen.

Since then, there’s been no stopping the 33-year-old Ottawa product, a late-bloomer if there ever was one.

Whereas Nesbitt, the 24-year-old from London, was already winning medals in her early 20s, Groves didn’t see the World Cup podium until she was 28.

“It’s pretty unusual,” her coach, Xiuli Wang, told QMI Agency. “Lots of people when they’re age 25, 26 and they’ve never been there, they probably quit. Since 28, she started getting the medals. And in Turin, it built up her confidence. After that, she never had a doubt in her head.”

What kept Groves going all those years is something that may have discouraged others: Seeing her teammates win.

“I still look up to Cindy and Clara (Hughes),” Groves said. “A large part of why I’m here is because of what they’ve shown us is possible.”

Powering Groves to the top was her tireless work ethic.

“We call her a working horse,” Wang said, smiling. “In a good way.”

There’s something else at play with Canada’s female long-trackers.

Seems they have some of the same qualities Canuck hockey players are known for.

“They’re fierce competitors,” Lacroix said. “Yeah, they’re girls and all that, but deep down inside they want to win as much as the guys. Put a hockey stick in their hands and they’re going to go in the corners and just plow themselves in.”

Of course, this sport’s intimidation tactics are a little more subtle.

No flying elbows or face-washes here. It’s all about power, endurance, efficiency — and speed.

When someone has it all, their competitors notice, as German star Anni Friesinger-Postma did during Groves’ impressive fourth-place finish in the 1,000, Thursday.

“I have to say this,” Friesinger-Postma warned. “Watch for the 1,500 for her.”

Or, as coach Lacroix put it: “Give her another lap and we’re in the money.’

As for Nesbitt, she was thinking about the 1,500 soon after the 1,000 ended.

Christine and Kristina — take your pick.

And get ready for Canada to own the podium.

For a day, anyway.

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

CANADA’S ONE-TWO PUNCH

Christine and Kristina, Season Results, 1,500m

World Cup 5, Salt Lake City

Nesbitt: Gold (1:52.77)

Groves: Silver (1:53.33)

World Cup 4, Calgary

Groves: Gold (1:54.35)

Nesbitt: Silver (1:54.43)

World Cup 3, Hamar, Nor.

Groves: Gold (1:55.16)

Nesbitt: did not compete

World Cup 2, Herenveen, Neth.

Nesbitt: Silver (1:56.74)

Groves: Bronze (1:57.05)

World Cup 1, Berlin

Nesbitt: Gold (1:55.54)

Groves: fourth (1:57.72)

World Cup Rankings

Women’s 1,500m

1. Groves (410 pts)

2. Nesbitt (360 pts)

3. Irene Wust, Neth. (257 pts)

4. Martina Sablikova, Czech. (228 pts)

5. Brittany Schussler, Can. (191 pts)

POLL