Canadian speedskater Kristina Groves wins Olympic bronze medal

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RICHMOND, B.C. - Kristina Groves has put Canada's powerhouse long-track speedskating team on the board at the Winter Olympics.
The Ottawa native raced to a bronze medal in the women's 3,000 metres at the Richmond Olympic Oval on Sunday.
She finished in four minutes 4.84 seconds. Czech Martina Sablikova won gold in 4:02.53 while Stephanie Beckert of Germany, who skated with Groves in the second-last pair, captured silver in 4:04.62.
Widely considered the top women's distance skater, Sablikova has won three World Cup golds this year.
The 3,000 was the 33-year-old Groves' first of five events at the Games.
Privately, long-track team officials feel the Canadians can claim up to nine medals at these Olympics. Most of their medals are likely to come in events scheduled for later in the week.
"If this helps the team get some good spirit and to give them some extra motivation, I'm really happy to be able to do that," Groves said. "It's a good start for our team. We have an incredibly strong team and lots of good races and good competitors coming up so I think it'll be great."
The competition was delayed for several minutes when the ice resurfacing machine leaked water on the track. That didn't seem to take the edge off of an enthusiastic pro-Canadian crowd at the Richmond Oval.
"When I was sitting to put my skates on, (teammate Cindy Klassen) was just starting her race and they announced her pair and they announced her and it just gave me goosebumps just listening to the crowd," Groves said. "I've never really experienced that crowd that loud for Canada. I've raced in all places where it's been that loud but never for Canada so that was really wonderful. It was deafening, just deafening."
Groves had a strong start and was on pace for gold at the 1,400-metre mark, some .22 seconds ahead of Sablikova. But as the race went into its second half she began to lose time and eventually finished 2.31 seconds behind the Czech winner. After crossing the finish line, she was bent over in agony desperately trying catch her breath.
All that was left was to watch and hope that her third-place time would survive the last pair of skaters - defending champion Ireen Wust of Netherlands and German veteran Daniela Anschutz Thoms.
Her time stood up when Anschutz Thoms finished fourth, just three-hundreths of a second behind Groves, while Wust ended up seventh.
"It was great. Honestly at the end of that race I was really happy with how I skated but I didn't think it was going to hold up at the last pair," Groves said. "I thought they'd beat me. It was a great and wonderful surprise for me that my time stood up."
When asked if it was tough watching the final two skaters, Groves said she had mixed feelings.
"It was and it wasn't, because I knew I had done the best race I could and that's all I can control. I obviously wanted the best race possible today and I think I did that. So it was a little nerve-wracking to watch, but that's OK, it was only a couple of minutes," she said laughing.
Groves and Beckert constantly pushed each other during their showdown before Beckert took the lead for good on the final lap.
"I had no idea where she was and at the end I was like, 'Wow, I might actually get this one.' Then all of a sudden, boom, she was right there," said Groves. "I wasn't that surprised because she's one of the strongest finishers in that race, her and Martina both have the strongest finishes possible. It kind of pushed me because I knew she was coming."
"I knew I had to give everything I could in the last lap," Beckert added through a translator.
Groves' effort was not lost on her teammates, who praised her podium finish.
"It was incredible. It was such a gutsy race," said Klassen.
Veteran Clara Hughes of Glen Sutton, Que., skating in the second-last race of her career, was fifth in 4:06.01.
"The crowd was amazing," said Hughes. "I was really focused on my race and I really was aware of them but also really into what I was doing, so I heard it and it really pushed me."
Winnipeg's Klassen, a five-time medallist at the 2006 Turin Games, was 14th in 4:15.53
Groves won silver in the 1,500 and team pursuit at the 2006 Olympics but has become an even better all-round skater since then, a status underlined by her five-medal performance at the 2008 world championships.
Her better events - the 1,500 and 1,000 - are scheduled over the next week.
Hughes said last week that the 3,000 and the Feb. 24 5,000 will be the last two races of an illustrious career that has included three Olympic speedskating medals - including 5,000 gold - plus two cycling medals won at the Summer Games. The 37-year-old flag-bearer's endless stamina makes her better at the 5,000 than the 3,000 now, since the shorter distance requires a bit more top speed.
Still, Hughes said she wasn't using the 3,000 as preparation for her longer race later in the Games.
"It wasn't a tune-up," Hughes said. "I was out there to have the race of my life and I had one of the best races in my life. This is the Olympics."
For Klassen, simply competing at the Olympics was like victory in itself. Her knees will never be the same after surgery to repair them and she's spent all season trying to reinvent herself as a skater, focusing on the finer points of technique with her trademark power a thing of the past.
The country's most decorated Olympian with six career medals also had to overcome personal adversity, as well, after her sister was nearly killed after her car slid off an icy bridge into a frozen river in February 2008. Klassen ended her season early to be by her sister's side as she made an amazing recovery.

The Richmond Olympic Oval was again alive in a sea of the customary orange of Dutch fans, who wildly cheered each skater as they zipped around the corners of the gruelling endurance test. There was also a more boisterous collection of red-clad Canadian fans, perhaps anticipating the long-track team's first medal at the Games.

Organizations: Richmond Olympic Oval

Geographic location: Canada, Ottawa, Germany Netherlands Winnipeg

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