Randy Starkman, The Toronto Star, March 14, 2009
RICHMOND, B.C.–It had to be the most depressed looking podium in the history of speed skating.
All the medallists were crestfallen, including winner Anni Friesinger of Germany, because they were feeling Canadian Kristina Groves' pain.
One minute, Groves was world champion in the women's 1,500 metres with what she called the race of her life. The next, she was disqualified for hitting one of the little plastic pucks that help outline the turns.
"I think it's the worst that could happen," said Monique Angermueller of Germany. "It's hard. You don't do it on purpose. She's probably crying like hell."
Remarkably, Groves wasn't.
A well-grounded athlete, the 32-year-old from Ottawa took pleasure in the fact she dominated her race at the world single distances speed skating championships and was faster than everyone by nearly a full second.
"You know what? It doesn't matter," said Groves. "I skated so great in that race ... I had such a big margin over second place. The feeling I get in that race trumps anything that happens afterward.
"Obviously, it's disappointing but it's an opportunity for me to learn a big lesson. I just have to accept it and move on."
The medallists in yesterday's race took the incident much harder, including Canadian teammate Christine Nesbitt.
She was bumped up to bronze, her best finish in the event at the worlds.
"Kristina beat us all fair and square as far as we're concerned," said Nesbitt, of London. "She dominated. She beat us by a lot. She beat Anni by almost a full second, and that's huge. Kristina should be up on that podium."
Silver medallist Ireen Wust of the Netherlands added: "It's a stupid rule. I think disqualification, the punishment, is too tough."
Friesinger, who won her sixth world 1,500-metre title and 12th world single distance title of her career, agreed it wasn't a satisfactory result.
"She's the one who deserves the world title," said Friesinger of Groves. "I want to win when everybody has the same conditions, races hard. This gold is not shining."
Friesinger gave Groves a big hug as the Canadian came to do her post-race interviews.
"She said: `You were the best today,'" said Groves. "That means a lot. Whether I had a medal around my neck or not, to know your competitors respect that you had a good race, you appreciate that."
Gerard Kemkers, who coaches Wust and is a former skater, said they have "been fighting against this rule forever" with the International Skating Union, and they hope to get it changed before the Olympics.
"It doesn't happen on purpose," said Kemkers, a bronze medallist in the 5,000 metres at the Calgary Olympics. "It's not like they do that to win time. It just happens. It should be a small time penalty for a violation like that, but don't disqualify. Look at the anticlimax that (happened yesterday). But maybe it's the best that can happen, because now they're really going to think about it."
Friesinger's winning time of one minute 58.66 seconds was far off the 1:57.75 posted by Groves. Wust won silver in 1:58.83, ahead of Nesbitt, who was paired with Groves and posted a time of 1:58.88.
Nesbitt was ticked off when she initially missed the podium but was not really any happier when she was bumped onto it.
"I'd just like to show them all a lesson (today)," said Nesbitt, referring to the upcoming women's 1,000-metre race at the Richmond Olympic Oval.