Ottawa’s Kristina Groves leads Canada to gold & silver at long track speed skating World Cup opener

Kristina Groves of Ottawa won the gold medal and Clara Hughes of Glen Sutton, Que., took the silver in the women’s 3,000-metres on Saturday at the season-opening long track speed skating World Cup competition.

Groves, 27, earned her first career World Cup medal clocking four minutes and 06.77 seconds the third fastest time ever at the Viking Ship oval built for the 1994 Olympic Games. Hughes took the silver in 4:07.06. Greta Smit of the Netherlands was third in 4:07.92.

"It’s exciting to win but I’m in disbelief right now," said the Calgary-based Groves, eighth in the event at the 2002 Olympics. "I followed the same training pattern as usual this off season but I made some big technical changes and that has made a difference. Also mentally I sort of liberated myself from expectations. I don’t think about numbers anymore before a race."

Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg, a world champion two seasons ago who missed most of last season with an injury, raced in the group 2 seed and posted the third fastest time of the day in 4:07.28. She’ll move up into the main group next weekend.

Groves is in her seventh season with the national team and has been patient in her development. During that period she has seen teammates such as Hughes and Klassen have quicker international success.

"I never got discouraged and never thought of quitting," said Groves, who has progressively improved every season. "My path has been different from the others and it’s taking me longer."

Hughes was hopeful the Canadians would burst out of the gates.

"We came here with the intention to make a statement," said Hughes, the 5,000 metre world champion last year. "We weren’t sure how good we would be off the bat but this is very motivating and exciting. Physically we’ve always been strong but we’re skating with more efficiency this season."

Also in group 2, Tara Risling of Medicine Hat, Alta., was ninth and Michele d’Amours of Ste-Foy, Que., 18th.

In the men’s 1,500, Jay Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., was 15th while in the group 2 race, Steven Elm of Red Deer, Alta., was fifth, Arne Dankers of Calgary 16th, Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, 19th and Jason Parker of Yorkton, Sask., 23rd.

Competition ends Sunday.