Randy Starkman, The Toronto Star, September 21, 2011
Kristina Groves is toying with the idea of a book about the lessons learned along the way as an athlete.
A fitting title might be: The little speed-skating engine that could.
That's the thing about Groves, who announced her retirement Wednesday in Calgary. She was never a can't-miss prospect, never the star on a powerhouse Canadian women's team that also featured Cindy Klassen, Clara Hughes and Christine Nesbitt.
But she was an integral part of that speed-skating dynasty, critical to that unprecedented Canadian success that included four Olympic medals on her own resumé. She was part of a group of athletes that always kept each other honest in training and pushed the measuring stick farther.
Apprised of the “little speed-skating engine that could” tagline, Groves heartily approved.
“That's so brilliant. That's exactly it, it is,” she said in an interview with the Star. “I kept on going. I had this slow, methodical trajectory of a career that kept on getting better. I had an engine, but it was little and I had to figure out how to get the most out of that. I'm not a natural racer ... I kept doing it because I loved it.”
Groves has recovered from the concussion that forced her to miss most of last season, but is ready to pursue other things. She found the competitive spark that always fuelled her was no longer there. It's the rare athlete who knows when to quit. The 34-year-old Groves is that rare athlete.
“It's hard. It's going to be really hard. I miss it a lot,” she said. “But every time I get sad about it, no matter how sad I feel, it's not sadness like ‘Oh, I better skate again.' It's just ‘Oh, it's done.' You mourn that a little bit and then you move on.”
It's not like she has a lack of interests, whether it be her work with Right To Play and Clean Air Champions.
She was even praised recently by Yoko Ono for a John-and-Yoko-style Bed-In for Sustainability that she hosted.
Her integrity as an athlete and person are remarkable, highlighted when she turned down a sponsorship before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics because the logo spot the company wanted was one she had been giving to Right To Play for four years for free.
She didn't want the charity to lose any exposure.
“Right To Play is forever thankful for the attention and support she has given to children living in disadvantaged areas and we are excited to continue expanding our work with her now as she retires,” said Johann Olav Koss, the speed-skating legend who spearheads Right To Play.
Few knew Groves the skater better than Hughes, who sweated beside her every day under their zen-like coach, Xiuli Wang. Hughes cried while making her speech at the news conference in Calgary.
“I don't think people outside of speed skating will ever realize the enormity of what Kristina did in sport. She went from being this skinny kid who very few people would ever imagine being a champion, to one of Canada's greatest athletes by having a balance of pure will and belief in herself, not to mention incredible focus,” said Hughes.
Hughes said one of the highlights for her was sharing Groves' joy when she won an Olympic bronze medal in the women's 3,000-metre race to open the 2010 Vancouver Games.
“There will never be another Kristina Groves on ice, that much I know is true,” said Hughes.
“Her knock-kneed skating that, with our coach Xiuli, she found a way to make this uncanny technique (because of her body mechanics) work and it was amazing to see her at her very best. I was lucky to witness firsthand and be fully inspired by those moments of greatness.”