Wotherspoon & Groves open season with 1,500 metre wins at speed skating team trials

Kristina Groves of Ottawa and Jeremy Wotherspoon of Red Deer, Alta., won the opening 1,500 metre races on Wednesday at the Canadian World Cup distance team trials in long track speed skating.

In the women’s 1,500, Groves clocked a personal best 1:58.29 seconds finishing ahead of Clara Hughes of Mount Sutton, Que., second in 1:58.62. Shannon Rempel of Winnipeg was third in 1:59.19 and Brittany Schussler of Winnipeg fourth in 2:00.84.

Groves, Cindy Overland of Winnipeg and Kerry Simpson of Melville, Sask., were pre-qualified for the World Cup in the event. Hughes and Schussler added their names for the World Cup 1,500 races later this fall with their performances on Wednesday.

"I’m really pleased with this, it’s a good start to the season," said Hughes, the reigning world champion in the 5,000 metres. "It was really great to race with some pressure and I really thrive on that. It was good to feel that before heading over to Europe."

Groves had a great start to season last winter then slumped in February before finishing with a solid sixth place finish in the 3,000 at the worlds.

"I was a little shocked when I saw the time," said Groves after her race at the Olympic Oval which received a $3 million upgrade this summer, its first major renovation since being completed in 1987 for the Calgary Olympics.

"I haven’t done a personal best in that event in a couple of years. It’s pretty exciting to do that. I’m just skating a lot better in training and I’m taking a calm relaxed approach to racing."

In the men’s 1,500, Wotherspoon posted the win in 1:47.16 with Arne Dankers of Calgary second in 1:47.83, Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., third in a personal best 1:48.16 and Jason Parker of Yorkton, Sask., fourth in 1:48.60.

"My coaches really want me to work on my shorter distances this season and so far it shows," said Dankers, a 5,000 and 10,000 specialist. "My goal this season is to go to the world championships again and also climb into the A group races at the World Cups."

Dankers, Jay Morrison of Fort St. John and Steven Elm of Red Deer were pre-qualified for the 1,500 at the World Cup. Denny Morrison and Parker added their names with their performances.

Both Wotherspoon and Rempel specialize in the sprint events, the 500 and 1,000 metres which is a separate World Cup circuit from the distance events.

Competition ends Thursday with the women’s 3,000 and men’s 5,000.