The Extraordinary Pursuits of Hughes and Klassen
Speed Skaters Poised for Heights Never Before Achieved
Incredible stories are sewn into the fabric of Canada’s national speed skating team, which holds some of the world’s best. They will be a major force to be reckoned with in Vancouver. You will undoubtedly hear all about them next February.
Two names synonymous with Olympic success are skaters Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen. Both have achieved remarkable results and exist in remarkable context amid Canada’s Olympic landscape.
Clara Hughes is one of Canada’s most extraordinary athletes. She was a summer Olympian first, at both the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games. The Winnipeg native burst onto the scene by capturing two bronze medals in cycling at the 1996 Games in Atlanta. She placed third in both the individual road race and individual time trial, becoming a double medallist in her first Olympic experience. (Four years later in Sydney, her top finish was sixth in the time trial.)
After the 2000 Olympic Games, Hughes retired from competitive cycling and took a new pursuit. Her third and fourth Olympic experiences would come in the winter. Hughes quickly became one of Canada’s top speed skaters. And one of 10 Canadians who have been both winter and summer Olympians.
In 2002, she won her third Olympic medal in the 5,000 metres in Salt Lake City. Excelling for the next four years in World Cups and World Championships, she entered the 2006 Olympic Winter Games and helped steal the show. There, in Turin, Hughes won silver in women’s pursuit and on the last day of competition, became Olympic champion with a gold medal in the 5,000 metres.
With that gold medal, Hughes entered uncharted territory. She became the only Olympian in the world to ever win two medals in a single Olympic Games and a single Olympic Winter Games. In fact, it’s believed that only three other athletes have won a single medal at both Summer and Winter Games: Edward Eagan (USA) for boxing (1920) and bobsleigh (1932), Jacob Tullin (Norway) for ski jumping (1924) and yachting (1936) and Christa Luding-Rothenburger (Germany) for speed skating (1984, ’88) and cycling (1988).
Cindy Klassen, also of Winnipeg, has more Olympic medals than any other Canadian. In 2002, she captured a bronze medal in the 3,000 metres. She also registered a pair of fourth-place finishes, narrowly missing two more medals, in the 1,500 and 5,000 metres.
Four years later, nobody will forget what she did in Turin. Klassen set a Canadian record by winning an incredible five medals and was the face of the entire 2006 Olympic Winter Games. The record tally: one gold (1,500 metres), two silver (pursuit and 1,000 metres) and two bronze (3,000 and 5,000 metres). This achievement prompted IOC president Jacques Rogge to call her the “woman of the Games.”
Her six medals are more than any other Canadian Olympian and she is poised for more in 2010. The six is one more than Clara Hughes, speed skater Marc Gagnon and track athlete Phil Edwards. And unlike those three athletes, Klassen acquired six medals in just two Olympic appearances. (While on the subject of history, it might be noted that rowing pair Marnie McBean and Kathleen Heddle won four medals – three of them gold – in just two Games.)
Edwards’ five bronze medals stood as the record for nearly 70 years before being matched by Gagnon in 2002, Hughes in 2006 – and finally surpassed by Klassen in 2006.
Watch out for these two amazing individuals next February as the Canadian Olympic record books may be rewritten again.