Groves groovin' to a new tune

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:04 AM ET

It is suggested to Kristina Groves that she seems to be timing it all just right. That her arrival as a member of the long-track speed skating world's upper echelon is setting her up rather nicely for a run at the Olympic podium in

Groves, a 27-year-old Ottawa native, might be inclined to agree. If she spent much time thinking that far ahead, that is. Or allowed herself to dwell on her results.

These days, simply neither is the case.

"I don't think much beyond how dead I am right now," Groves said from Calgary, finally back home after a harried month of World Cup racing. "The (Torino) Olympics aren't until next year. They're on the back burner right now."

Make no mistake about it, though. Groves is very aware of the company she is now keeping. The opening World Cup of the season last month in Hamar, Norway -- not to mention what followed over the next few weekends in Berlin and the Netherlands -- said plenty about that.

FIRST CUP TRIUMPH

In Hamar, Groves struck gold in the women's 3,000 metres -- her first World Cup medal of any colour -- with the third-fastest time ever recorded in the event (4:06.77) at the venue which played host to the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Two weeks later in Heerenveen, Netherlands, Groves beat two-time Olympic champ Claudia Pechstein of Germany in the final pair to wind up fourth in the 5,000 metres. The next day, she turned in a personal-best time in the 1,500 (1:57.76).

Ask Groves about the breakthrough win in Norway and she'll tell you "it was pretty cool. I've been working for so long, and a bunch of things finally came together."

The biggest of which was a complete shift in mindset.

"I've changed how I approach racing," said Groves, who'll hit the Olympic oval for the Canadian all-around championships starting tomorrow. "In the past, I put expectations on myself ... Now I've removed myself from the end result."

It's reduced her stress level going into races which, she says, "has given me the freedom to try to win." In other words, it's made Groves believe she truly belongs with the best.

"(Winning) is the whole point of doing it," said Groves. "But before, I limited myself to the top eight or top five ... I was sort of happy with being fifth.

"Now, I'm trying to win. That's something new for me."

So are a lot of the trappings that go along with podium finishers. More media attention, loftier expectations from the experts ... it's new territory for Groves, who admits she's happy she's got a season to adjust to it all before the final stretch run to Torino 2006 begins.

"It's about me being able to have the opportunity to learn what it's like to be up there (with the best) and deal with what goes along with it," she said. "If that didn't happen until next season, I might start freaking out about it. But we're still enough away (from Torino) to deal with what it's like to be up there."

Such revelations also have Groves re-evaluating how many years she's got left in the sport. After her Olympic debut two years ago in Salt Lake City, she could easily envision being in Italy for another Games in 2006. But not much more.

JUST THE BEGINNING

"I used to think 2006 would be it," said Groves. "But now my thought is that I would be finishing too soon. I've really just started to figure this thing out."

When Vancouver won the bid for the 2010 Winter Games, it fuelled her desire to skate until then, when she'd be 33.

"If I'm still having fun, getting better and still enjoying what I'm doing, I'll stay around," said Groves. "It's more about trying to hit the end line, and I haven't come close to it yet.

"For sure, 2010 will be the absolute limit, but I'm going to take it one day at a time until then."

And there's a lot of days to savour before 2010.

"Vancouver is (a little more than) five years away," she said. "It's the last thing on my mind right now.

"If long term was all you thought about, you'd forget about what you need to do to get there."


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