Ottawa’s Kristina Groves wins gold medal at speed skating World Cup

BASELGA DI PINE, Italy – Kristina Groves of Ottawa won the gold medal in the women’s 1,500-metres on Saturday at a long track speed skating World Cup competition with Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., earning the bronze.

Groves clocked two minutes and 01.07 seconds for her first victory this season at the distance. Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic was second in 2:02.93 and Nesbitt followed in 2:02.98.

It was first world Cup race held outdoors this season and the weather was a major factor with a mix of snow and rain. Both the men’s 5,000 A Group race and the women’s pursuit races were not held due to the deteriorating conditions.

‘’I skated really well despite the weather,’’ said Groves, who learned to speed skate as a youngster at the Brewer Park outdoor oval and on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa and is now based in Calgary. ‘’I did what I wanted and I’m really happy about that because I didn’t really nail it in the 1,500 last week. The ice was very frosty so you had to make sure the tempo was high and keep your body moving forward. You can’t really hang out very long in your strides and take time to glide or else you’ll just slow down.’’

Nesbitt was in the second last pair and didn’t expect she’d hold on to third place with Anni Friesenger of Germany and Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg, the two most successful female speed skaters over the past few years, in the final pair of the day. Friesinger finished ninth and Klassen 17th.

‘’When I finished I was a little disappointed with how I placed even though I skated well,’’ said Nesbitt. ‘’I figured I wouldn’t stay in the top-three but the conditions got progressively worst. I knew going into this race anything could happen. Racing outdoors was a nice change and enjoyable but when I go back to skating indoors I’m really going to appreciate it.’’

Brittany Schussler of Winnipeg was 10th and Nicole Garrido of Edmonton 19th.

The women’s 1,500 World Cup title will come down to a showdown between Nesbitt and Groves. Nesbitt, who has medalled in all six 1,500 races this season, has 490 points and Groves 450. The seventh and final 1,500 is in three weeks.

In the men’s 5,000 B group race, Steven Elm of Red Deer, Alta., was fourth, Jay Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., ninth, Lucas Makowsky of Regina 10th and Peter Martel of Red Deer, 19th.

Competition ends Sunday.