Sport Shorts: The First of 2010

Groves et al Nearly Set: An Ottawa speedster has been tearing up the ice in Calgary the past few days. Kristina Groves captured the 1,500-metre and 5,000-metre titles at the Canadian Long Track Team Selections, earning berths in both those events at the Olympic Winter Games. Earlier last week, Groves won the 1,000-metre race. Groves, who typically downplays her performance said she could have skated much better. “I am, however, really happy the Olympic Trials are over!” she added. Groves is now qualified to skate in four individual races at the Richmond Oval next month, as she had pre-qualified for the 3,000 metres.

On the men’s side, Regina’s Lucas Makowsky won a New Year’s Day 1,500-metre race, followed by Mathieu Giroux (Pointe-aux-Trembles, Que.) in second and Kyle Parrott (Minnedosa, Man.) in third. For Giroux, it is a particularly strong accomplishment after switching to long track from short track speed skating only one year ago. He needed a top-three finish to qualify for the Games, and the team might be interested in using his skills for the team pursuit as Giroux is comfortable skating in close quarters with other skaters. All three of these skaters have great shots to be skating alongside Denny Morrison (Fort St. John, B.C.) for the Olympic 1,500 metres.

The full speed skating team – a strong candidate to winning the most medals for Canada in any sport – will be announced in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here are what Canada’s prime medal threats have qualified for thus far: Groves in the 1,000, 1,500, 3,000 and 5,000 metres; Clara Hughes (Winnipeg) in the 3,000 and 5,000 metres; Christine Nesbitt (London, Ont.) in the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 metres; Morrison in the 1,000 and 1,500 metres; Jeremy Wotherspoon (Red Deer, Alta.) in the 500 and 1,000 metres; and Lucas Makowsky in the 1,500 and 5,000 metres.

Another Luge Relay Medal: The luge program in Canada continues to excel and the latest evidence came at a World Cup in Königssee, Germany. Four athletes – Calgary’s Alex Gough, Sam Edney and brothers Chris and Mike Moffat – combined to win bronze in the team relay. This is the third straight medal Canada has won in this event, which is not yet on the Olympic program. In singles action, Edney finished 15th and Ian Cockerline 19th. The next World Cup stop is next weekend in Winterberg, Germany.

Acton Leads Ladies in Croatia: Brigitte Acton (Mont-Tremblant, Que.) led the Canadian alpine team for the second straight World Cup, this time finishing 19th in slalom on Sunday in Zagreb, Croatia. It came, though, amid further bad news for the team as Anna Goodman (Pointe Claire, Que.) suffered a suspected ACL tear. Goodman returns to Canada for assessment.

Canadians Battle in Tour de Ski: The Tour de Ski is a 102-kilometre trek composed of eight events held in three countries, modelled after cycling’s Tour de France. Thus far for Canada Devon Kershaw (Sudbury, Ont.) leads the pack in 16th spot after Sunday’s sprint race. Kershaw had skied hard to finish 10th on Saturday in the 15 km race. Other Canadians racing: Alex Harvey (St-Ferréol-les-Neiges, Que.), Ivan Babikov (Canmore, Alta.), George Grey (Rossland, B.C.), and Sara Renner (Canmore). Action continues tonight in downtown Prague and ends next Sunday in Val di Fiemme, Italy.

Canada Sweeps USA in Exhibition Matches: In another meeting between the two women’s hockey powerhouses, Canada and the United States, the nation to the north came out on top once again. This time, Jayna Hefford (Kingston, Ont.) scored the only shootout goal to cap a dramatic 3-2 win over the U.S. Goaltender Charline Labonte (Boisbriand, Que.) stopped all three shots she faced in the shootout, but perhaps the real story was the crowd. Ottawa’s Scotiabank Place hosted 16,347 fans, the largest Canadian crowd ever to watch a women’s hockey game. It was the final pre-Olympic meeting between the two teams. The six-game series has been decidedly lopsided, with Canada winning every match to go 6-0.

Skeleton Showdowns: The pressure was on in Whistler last Thursday, where Canadian skeleton racers went head-to-head to try and qualify for the 2010 Olympic Team. On the women’s side, Amy Gough (Abbotsford, B.C.) narrowly beat good friend Carla Pavan (Lethbridge, Alt.) and may join teammates Mellisa Hollingsworth (Eckville, Alta.) and Michelle Kelly (Fort St. John, B.C.) on the Olympic team. On the men’s side, Toronto’s Mike Douglas beat Calgary’s Keith Loach to similarly join Jon Montgomery (Russell, Man.) and Jeff Pain (Calgary). The full team is set to be announced on Jan. 27.

Watch Out Calgary! Canada’s best freestyle skiers will descend on Calgary’s Olympic Park from Jan. 8 to 10. In the neighbourhood? Best part: it’s free! Moguls action is on Friday and Saturday with aerials following up on Sunday.