In the end, she just couldn’t hang on.
Kristina Groves entered the final lap of the women’s 1500m speed skating race with the narrowest of leads—just 0.07 seconds.
But as she rounded the home stretch, she knew it didn’t feel like victory. With a 100 metres to go, and the home crowd rattling the rafters, the legs were burning too fiercely, the lungs gasping the tiniest bit too hard for air. And the speed dropping off faster than she hoped, or had come to expect.
At the finish, the 33-year-old from Ottawa looked up at the scoreboard and confirmed her suspicions—a silver medal-winning time of 1:57.14, a quarter-second behind Ireen Wurst of the Netherlands. Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic took bronze.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way,” said Groves, who came into the Games ranked first in the world after 1500 metres. “I just tied-up in the last 100 metres. It was tough, you can’t move. It’s sorts of like the wheels are falling off.”
The medal was Groves second of the Games, to go with a bonus bronze she captured for Canada in the 3000m last weekend. But it was not the colour she wanted, or the performance she expected of herself.
“We’re always looking for the perfect race, and I didn’t have it today,” said Groves.
She joked about looking better in silver anyway (Groves should know, she won one in the same race at the Turin Olympics, and added another in team pursuit.) But she couldn’t hide her disappointment.
“Overall I’m satisfied, but deep in my heart, I really wanted to win that race.”
Christine Nesbitt, who captured Canada’s only speed skating gold so far in Vancouver in Thursday’s 1000m, finished sixth, .37 seconds off the podium. Coming into the Games, Nesbitt was ranked second in the world, behind Groves, stoking hopes of a two medal performance for Canada.
She said her gold medal performance took more out of her than she expected.
“Usually, I have the fastest first lap in the 1500m, and often the faster second lap. Then I just hold on for dear life at the end,” she said. “Tonight I didn’t.”
But in sharp contrast to the 1000m, where Nesbitt was visibly angry at herself for winning by just .02 seconds, the defeat was leavened by Groves’ and her own success.
“I still won a gold medal, so I can’t be that disappointed,” she said.
Winnipeg’s Cindy Klassen, the defending Olympic champion, finished 21st with a time of 2:00.67. The double knee surgery she underwent in 2008, and long recovery, have clearly robbed the six-time Olympic medalist of once fearsome speed. Klassen still owns the world record for the 1500m — 1:51.79, set in 2005. Brittany Schussler, also of Winnipeg, battled equipment problems to finish a distant 35th.
Heading into the final week of competition, Groves, still has a chance to establish herself as Canada’s Queen of the Games. On Feb. 24th, she will compete in the 5000m, with teammate and defending Olympic champion Clara Hughes. Next Saturday, she will be part of Canada’s number-one ranked pursuit team, perhaps finally earning her gold.
But for now, Groves is relieved that her toughest skate of the Games is done.
“They’re all hard, but the 1500 is the worst. It’s a combination of speed and endurance.” she said. “Sometimes you can taste blood in your lungs.”