World Cup season gets underway this Friday for Canada's powerful long track speed skating team

Double Olympic silver medallist Kristina Groves of Ottawa is scheduled to compete in four races at a World Cup for the first time in her career this weekend as she leads an 18-member long track speed skating Canadian team to its opening international competition.

The first two World Cup stops are set for this Friday to Sunday in Heerenveen, the Netherlands, and the following weekend in Berlin.

Groves has added the 1,000 metre sprint to her plate along with her regular 1,500 and 3,000 middle distance events. Almost all the Olympic distances are scheduled at the first two World Cups. The 500 and 1,000 metre races will be contested twice at both stops.

"The 1,000 metre is a race that I enjoy and I think it will be beneficial for me this early in the season," said the Calgary-based Groves, fifth in the 1,000 at the Turin Olympics along with her silver medals in the 1,500 and pursuit. "Obviously after a hectic Olympic year, the training wasn’t as intense as last season. At these World Cups I just want to build rather than worry about medals right off the bat."

Groves, in her 10th season on the national team, is among a solid core of veterans on the women’s squad. She’s been a great example of perseverance for both the women and men skaters, gradually improving each season. She won her first World Cup medal in 2003 and notched her first World Cup win in 2004.

"I’m not the vocal type leader," said Groves, who fulfilled a long time dream this summer by canoeing with her family in the Northwest Territories. "I try to lead by example."

Joining Groves at the season opening World Cup on the women’s team are: Shannon Rempel and Brittany Schussler, both of Winnipeg; Krisy Myers of Lloydminster, Sask., Kim Weger of Regina, Justine L’Heureux of St-Tite, Que., Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., Michelle d’Amours of Ste-Foy, Que., and Shannon Sibold of Calgary. Cindy Klassen and Clara Hughes are both skipping the opening World Cups.

On the men’s side, the Canadian team also has some solid veterans like Steven Elm of Red Deer, Alta., and Arne Dankers of Calgary. Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., is a young skater who appears on the fast track to success.

"I feel stronger for the start of this season than I did last year," said Morrison, 21, who helped Canada to an Olympic silver in the men’s pursuit and was second in the 1,500 World Cup standings. "My preparation has gone very well and I’ve posted some impressive early season times so far. I want to improve upon last season and I feel I’m headed in the right direction. My goal for this year is to really produce some exciting results in the 1,500."

Also racing for Canada at the World Cup this weekend are: Mike Ireland of Winnipeg, Brock Miron of Calgary, Vincent Labrie of St. Romuald,Que., François-Olivier Roberge of St-Nicholas, Que., Justin Warsylewicz of Regina and Mark Jesney of Saskatoon.

The other World Cups for the middle and long distance specialists are November 25-26 in Moscow, February 3-4 in Torino, Italy and February 17-18 in Erfurt Germany.

The sprint specialists have World Cups on the first two weekends of December in Harbin, China and Nagano, Japan. There is also a sprint World Cup event January 27-28 in Heerenveen. Calgary hosts the World Cup final featuring all distances March 2-4.

The world sprint championships are January 20-21 in Hamar, Norway, the all around worlds are February 9-11 in Heerenveen and the world single distance championships are March 8-11 in Salt Lake City. Innsbruck, Austria hosts the world juniors February 23-25.

The Canadian single distance championships are December 28-31 in Calgary.