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September 30, 2000

Clara Hughes finishes sixth in Olympic cycling time trial

 SYDNEY (CP) -- Canadian cyclist Clara Hughes said goodbye to road racing with a ride she ranked among her best.

 She didn't add another Olympic medal to the two bronze she won at the 1996 Games, but what she did to finish sixth in the women's time trial Saturday filled her with pride.

 Hughes, weakened by a cold that wouldn't go away, pushed herself to a threshold of pain beyond what most humans can endure.

 "I'm so satisfied with what I did today," Hughes said. "I've had some pretty poor preparation because of some health problems.

 "I've felt so bad in training. But everyone kept saying to me, 'Clara, you can do it, you can suffer more than anyone else.'

 "That was my word for today: suffer. I kept telling myself, 'Come on, Clara, you'll never be here again."'

 Leontien Zijlaard of the Netherlands won her third gold -- and fourth medal -- of the Games by turning two laps of the 15.6-kilometre course through the city's eastern neighbourhoods in 42 minutes flat -- an average of 44.56 kilometres an hour.

 "Never, never would I have imagined I would have been healthy enough again to win an Olympic medal," said Zijlaard, who missed the Atlanta Games while battling anorexia.

 There'll be no try at a repeat.

 "This is my last Olympics," said Zijlaard. "By 2004 I'll have two little ones."

 Zijlaard dominated women's cycling in Sydney. She won gold medals in the road race and 3,000-metre individual pursuit, where she set a world record, and took silver in the points race.

 American Mari Holden finished 37 seconds slower and won silver. Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli of France was 52 seconds back of Zijlaard and had to settle for bronze.

 Hughes was 1:12 behind the winner. Genevieve Jeanson of Lachine, Que., was 15th.

 The 23 riders raced individually against the clock.

 "I felt so great on that course," said Hughes. "Every corner, I felt I could taken seconds out of people. It was cool.

 "I got the most out of myself today. I knew it was either going to be really, really good or really, really bad. Just everything I've gone through leading up to this, I'm really quite happy with how it turned out."

 The 27-year-old native of Winnipeg won bronze in the women's road race and in the time trial in Atlanta four years ago. Earlier in these Games, she was well back in the pack in the road race.

 Since she had decided this would be her last road race, she said, she was determined to give it her all. She'll compete in the individual pursuit and points events in track cycling in the future.

 "I hope to be in Athens for Canada on the velodrome, for sure," she said.

 She'll train in the province of Quebec.

 "A new direction is what I need to stay motivated," she said. "In the overall scheme of things, I have so many years left in this sport. I still have a passion for what I do."

 This winter, she'll also get serious about speed skating and try for the national team in that sport.

 "I won't dive into it too fast," she said. "I just want to take my time at it."

 Pro teammate Nicole Reinhart of the United States died in a race crash in the United States during the Games, and Hughes had her in her mind constantly.

 "The memory of Nicole inspired me throughout these Games," Hughes said. "She was a beautiful person and I felt like I carried her in my heart through these Games."

 For Hughes, there was no medal, and no regrets.

 "I'm just happy I did my best," she said. "It makes me want to come back to the Olympics and be healthy and do everything right because I know if I do I know I have a chance to be on the podium.

 "Maybe on top of it. Maybe second or third. But I know I have more in me. So it's inspiring to have had this experience. I really enjoyed it.

 "It's been a fantastic Olympic experience."

 Viacheslav Ekimov of Russia won the three-lap men's race in 57:40.

 Jan Ullrich of Germany, the road race winner, took silver in 57:48, and Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong of the United States won bronze in 58:14.

 Eric Wohlberg of Levack, Ont., was 20th among 37 with a time of 1:00:34




Reprinted with permission

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